Ladi Kwali Biography

Ladi Kwali was born in the village of Kwali in Northern Nigeria’s Gwari region, where pottery was a traditional female occupation.

Her aunt taught her how to make pottery as a child using the traditional coiling method. She made large pots from clay coils beaten from the inside with a flat wooden paddle for use as water jars, cooking pots, bowls, and flasks.

Scorpions, lizards, crocodiles, chameleons, snakes, birds, and fish were among the incised geometric and stylized figurative patterns.

Her pots were praised for their form and decoration, and she was regarded as a gifted and eminent potter in the region.

Several were purchased by Alhaji Suleiman Barau, the Emir of Abuja, and were seen by Michael Cardew in his home in 1950.
Ladi Kwali began her training with her aunt in her village, which is now part of the Nigerian Federal Capital Territory’s Kwali Area Council. The Emir of Abuja (now Suleja), Alhaji Suleiman Barau, recognized her talent early on and collected her pots for display in his palace, where they caught the attention of potter Michael Cardew (1901-1983) during his 1950 tour for the Nigerian colonial government’s extensive report on pottery development. In December 1954, L. Kwali became the first female trainee at M. Cardew’s Pottery Training Centre (PTC) in Abuja, which he founded in 1952. She finished her training and began working at the center in January 1959.

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Despite the fact that M. Cardew taught her how to throw pots on the wheel, L. Kwali used the center’s stoneware clay to make pots using the traditional free-hand modelling technique. She adorned them with bands of poetically incised lines that left plenty of room for her schematized figures of scorpions, fishes, birds, snakes, chameleons, crocodiles, and lizards. After being glost-fired at high temperatures, the deeply incised lines were filled with white porcelain body, which glowed under dark celadon glazes. Her experimentation with new materials and firing techniques resulted in pots that were heavier and impervious, unable to function as water storage pots with cooling properties. They’d evolved into works of art.

The patrons and audiences of the new pots had shifted dramatically from local to international. L. Kwali was the forerunner of an African ceramic art modernism, as the pots had acquired a new form of modernity.

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