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Water Jar by Ladi Kwali

Water Jar

Ladi Kwali MBE (1925–1984)


Hand-coiled stoneware with impressed and incised decoration, green and white slip and a transparent glaze

33cm high, 35cm wide


This water jar was made by potter Ladi Kwali, who was born and raised in the Gwari region of Nigeria. As a child, Kwali’s aunt taught her how to make pots in the local, traditional style. Kwali was highly skilled and her pots were very popular. They were collected by the local leader, the Emir of Abuja, where they were seen by British studio potter, Michael Cardew, when he visited Nigeria in 1950. At the behest of the colonial British government, Cardew set up a local Pottery Training Centre in Abuja (the Nigerian capital) and invited Kwali to join him. Her work was subsequently shown in exhibitions around the world and Kwali joined Cardew on demonstration and lecture tours to Europe and North America.

Ladi Kwali is celebrated as one of Nigeria’s most successful artists. She was given an honorary doctorate from Ahmadu Bello University, as well as the Nigerian National Merit Award (the highest award for academic achievement) and was made Officer of the Order of the Niger. The Abuja Pottery Training Centre was renamed the Ladi Kwali Pottery Centre in her honour. She also appears on Nigerian currency, on the 20 Naira note!

Michael Cardew taught Kwali to throw on a wheel but mostly she made pots using the local method learnt from her aunt, positioning a pot on a stool or low table and walking around it, coiling the clay and thinning it as she went. Although this piece is called a ‘water jar’, it was not made to be functional but was intended as an exhibition piece for European collectors. It is covered with animals, which Kwali incised and cross-hatched from imagination, without a sketch or plan.

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