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The Woman Behind ₦20 Note

Ladi Kwali might be dead, but she left behind a legacy of creativity, and art works that blends with the traditional African and Western pottery. Dr Hadiza Ladi Kwali was born in the year 1925, in the village of Kwali, that is located in the Gwari region of northern Nigeria. In her village, pottery is a common occupation among women, so she learnt the art from her aunty. She was using the traditional method of coiling for her works.

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During her first professional years, she was greatly influenced by the traditional cultural environment of the Gbagyi tradition. She used to make large pots that people used as water jars and cooking pots. Several of her pots were acquired by notable people for decorative purposes, including the Emir of Abuja, Alhaji Suleiman Barau. The pottery officer in the department of commerce and industry in the colonial Nigerian government, Michael Cardew, saw the pots that were designed by Ladi Kwali in Alhaji Suleiman Barau’s place (1950), and he developed a sudden interest in her.

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Cardew became very interested in Dr Hadiza Ladi Kwali’s work, and in 1954, she joined Cardew’s pottery training centre that’s located in Abuja. She was the only female Potter in the training centre. She learnt the western techniques for pottery like wheel throwing and glazing. She made things like dishes, bowls and beakers.

She continued to use her traditional methods to produce different designs. Ladi Kwali left a big legacy behind with her works. Through her contact with Cardew, she became popular all over the world and became Nigeria’s best known Potter. In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, Ladi’s work had already gotten great respect in London, in the Berkeley Galleries.

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In 1962, she received an award as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), she also received a honourary doctorate degree from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria in 1977, she was awarded with the National Order of Merit Award in 1980 and the national honour of the officer of the order of the Niger (OON) in 1981.

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She is the woman that you see behind the ₦20 note. She died on the 12th of August, 1984 in Minna, at the age of 59. She left a legacy that withstood the test of time. The Cardew Pottery in Abuja was renamed to ‘The Ladi Kwali Pottery’ in honour of her. Another major street was named after her in Abuja.

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