time she died in 1983, Dr Ladi Kwali was Nigeria’s best known potter. She left a
rich legacy of her work and a school of ‘students’ who picked up from where she
left at the Abuja Pottery Training Centre. She grew up in a family in which the
womenfolk made pots for a living.
Pottery in Nigeria has for centuries been the exclusive preserve of the
womenfolk. Pottery, in all Nigerian traditional cultures is used for utilitarian
purposes such as cooking and especially for water storage. Some tribes and
cultures also use pots as religious symbols, hence the intricate ornamentation
that is typical of such items.
The Abuja Pottery Training Centre was established 1950 by an English potter,
Michael Cardew, who was sent to the Abuja area by the then colonial government,
ostensibly to ‘improve’ the quality of local work. But he found himself, for the
next 15 years, in a symbiotic working relationship with local potters, in which
he taught and was taught by potters like Ladi Kwali.
While Cardew introduced wheels and kilns to the centre, he also learnt about
traditional firing methods and ornamentation. Kwali on the other hand, was
initially reluctant to adapt to the wheel, preferring the spiralled coil method
of building pots. She however, discovered she had a natural flair for the wheel.
Over the next decade, her ornamentation skills became more sophisticated, and
probably because of improved firing methods, she had the opportunity to exhibit
her work in Europe in 1958, ‘59 and 1962. Her pottery was also
displayed during Nigeria’s independence celebrations in 1960.
Dr Ladi Kwali remained associated with the Abuja pottery works till she died.
She gave lectures and demonstrations at home and abroad on her craft throughout