Thursday, May 17, 2012

RIP Danlami Aliyu 1952-2012

After Ladi Kwali, Danlami was the best modern potter in Nigeria. He learned at the Pottery Training Centre set up by Michael Cardew in Abuja. He was good, so I asked Michael if he would take him on at Wenford (Cardew’s own workshop in the UK). He did. He thought Danlami was outstanding and arranged for the pots he made there to have a show at the Commonwealth Institute, London.

It was well reviewed in 'Crafts' (Another UK journal for Potters). After Wenford, Danlami went to Farnham College to learn about kiln-building. In the Thesis he wrote at the end of his course, he compared the pottery made at the Training Centre with the pots his mother used to buy locally. This thesis was published whole in ‘Pottery Quarterly’. Out of respect for Michael he gave it to him in person.

On the train to Cornwall, Michael's wife Mariel read it and was so moved by it tears ran down her cheeks, charmed by his simple way of writing and the Africanisms which made it so vivid. Michael read it and was silent. A comment made by Danlami in a spirit of humility, not of criticism, devastated Cardew: “too complicated for us" is what Danlami wrote of the Centre.

The Training Centre and the fifteen happiest years of Cardews life that he had spent setting it up, were deemed a failure. “Too complicated", those two words haunted me too and fundamentally changed the way I taught when I returned to Nigeria.

By this time, fifteen years after Cardew left, the Abuja training centre was in decline. After a further six years Danlami, having been overseas and now understanding it's significance, together with Umaru his brother and myself, decided to do something about it. We built a new pottery at Maraba, modelled on the original one at Abuja, hoping to recapture the extraordinary spirit it had while Michael was there. It was successful. Danlami stayed longer than I did and gave it a sound basis which enabled it to expand and last twenty years after he left. To this day there are more good throwers (potters) in Maraba than in the rest of Nigeria.

The other things Danlami did there would be of little interest here, except his ‘regiment’ as he called them, - his fifteen children! To spend a day in his compound was a pleasure, the younger ones were beguiling and so well behaved with inquisitive little faces, the adolescents graceful and friendly.

Danlami is well remembered in the UK when he was a student. He was young and handsome, a joker, popular with everybody.

In Minna, as news of his death spread, crowds filled his compound. People from all walks of life from top civil servants (the Governor sent a representative) to poor potters who - came from Maraba two hundred miles away. He was very well liked and it was a great tribute, but how sad he has gone, he was only 59. What a pity so little of his brush decoration has been seen (and valued). He saw Cardew’s work but his is different. It is so skilful that it is surprising it shows no trace of showmanship, instead it is simple, not the simplicity achieved by minimalism, but by a simplicity of spirit which sings as pure and as natural as a bird's song. Michael Cardew thought him outstanding and so he was.
This obituary was written by Micheal O’Brien for ‘Ceramic Review’, a UK Journal for Potters. 


Sugabelly 12:40 p.m.  

I'd love to see some of his work. You hear a lot about Ladi Kwali but if you don't have your ear to the ground, you don't hear about much else.

What a loss.

Kingsley C. 11:43 a.m.  

Ladi kwali is on the nigerian 20 bucks or so? I'd love to see these great artists and their works... especially that particular work on the potters table, it looks huge and nice... its a big miss actually

Trudie,  11:36 p.m.  

I met Danlami at Michael Cardew's in 1977 and he tried to teach me some Hausa as I was planning to go to Nigeria. He was full of fun but a dedicated potter. It clearly warmed Michael's heart that he was around. I met him again when he was studying at Farnham (and friends with Magdalene Odundo's sister, who was studying textiles). Over the years I have followed his progress via Michael O'Brien, Kofi Attey, Suzi Mutter and others, so it has come as a great shock to hear of his death. We were about the same age and he had left me with fond memories of him. His wives and 'regiment' must truly be feeling the loss. My heartfelt condolences go out to them. RIP Danlami. The world was a better world for having you here.

Trudie,  11:49 p.m.  

I met Danlami when he was at Michael Cardew's and he tried to teach me some Hausa as I was preparing to go to work in Nigeria. He was instantly likable and kind. I bought a jug of his that I still use for water. I met him again later at Farnham when he was studying there (and was friends with Magdalene Odundo's 'sister' who was studying textiles). I have followed his progress over the years and it has come as a shock to learn of his death. His wives and 'regiment' must feel his loss keenly. RIP Danlami; the world was a better place for your presence.

John 1:04 p.m.  

A great loss for the art and craft world. RIP Danlami Aliyu

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