Danlami Aliyu 1952 - 2012

25 May 2012

Danlami Aliyu – born about 1952; died 26 April 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. He did. He thought Danlami was outstanding and arranged for the pots he made there to have a show at the commonwealth Institute. It was well reviewed in Crafts. After Wenford Danlami went to Farnham 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 that 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 him. “ …..too complicated for us….”, the Training Centre and the fifteen happiest years of his life that he had spent setting it up, were 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 6 years Danlami, having been overseas  and now understanding its significance, together Umaru his brother and myself decided to do something about it. We built a new pottery at Maraba, modelled on 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 20 years after he left.

To this day there are more good throwers in Maraba than in the rest of Nigeria.

The other things he did there would be of little interest here, except his regiment as he called them…..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 remembered here (in the UK) as 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 work, but his is different. It is so skillful 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.
Cardew thought him outstanding and so he was.
Michael O’Brien