An Analysis And Appraisal Of Professor Abbas Ahuwan’S Ceramic Forms
The motivation to conduct a research on the ceramic forms of Professor Ahuwan emanated from their uniqueness. After acquiring a sound Western training in ceramic production, Professor Ahuwan turned to traditional pottery, preferring to elevate the aesthetic qualities of wares over their functionality. He continued to teach Ceramics for over forty years to students at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and at other institutions whenever he visited them. Despite this commitment to the development of Ceramics, he remained relatively obscure to researchers and art commentators, accounting for the dearth of literature on his works. This study, therefore, set out to produce an analytical documentation of his work by describing, analyzing, interpreting and evaluating them. The methods of the study were derived from the frameworks proffered by earlier researchers in related areas like Fajana (1996) and Barnet (2003). These frameworks provided steps in retrieving and analyzing data. Thirty works of Professor Ahuwan were studied. The earlier works were utilitarian while the latter were sculptural-ceramic wares with the Kim Kim as one of the prominent forms. Their finishing using the traditional method of firing and linear embellishments was meant to evoke aesthetic appeal. These effects were learnt from Mallam Idi, Professor Ahuwan’s traditional pottery teacher, who resided in Hunkuyi. Professor Ahuwan eventually called the sculptural-ceramic forms, Hunkuyi Experiments. The study established that this term was more a concept than events. It defined him as a post-colonial artist having been liberated from colonial vestiges epitomized in his departure from Western oriented methods of pottery.
Professor Abashiya Magaji Ahuwan was born on 31st December, 1947 at Sakwak in Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State to Magaji and Zuga Ahuwan. His mother was one of three wives his father married. Professor Ahuwan’s father kept bees for a living. He produced the beehives himself from a mixture of clay and cow dung. He made enough money from selling honey to cater for his family and send his children to school. Professor Ahuwan was sent to primary school at the age of seven, a relatively young age at the time. His father had realized then that Western education, which was new in his part of the world, would be beneficial in future. He wanted his children to be able to read so that he would not remain in the dark, being that he did not go to school himself. When Professor Ahuwan turned seven, his elder brother, Reverend Iliya, was already enlightened having already attended the Bible College in Kagoro and Igbaja. He was already established as a missionary in Kagoro. It was he who sent Professor Ahuwan to Madakiya Primary School. Madakiya was about 10 kilometres away from Sakwak, where Professor Ahuwan lived with his parents. Along with five others who also attended the Madakiya Primary School from Sakwak, Professor Ahuwan trekked to and from school every school day. It was not easy to do that at a delicate age of seven. It was also tough even for the other older members with whom he trekked and they dropped out of school. When Reverend Iliya heard about this, he brought Professor Ahuwan to Kagoro to stay with him and he put him in the Practicing School, which was located at the Sudan Interior Mission (S.I.M.) Teachers’ College in Kagoro. By then, he had already spent three years in school in Madakiya. He attended class four at the Practicing School and proceeded to
spend three years at the senior primary school, the ECWA Primary School in the same Kagoro where he completed his primary education. In the 1960s, Principals of post primary institutions were directly involved in the admission exercises. They would go to primary schools and administer examination to graduating pupils. The Principal who administered the examination interviewed those who passed. Names of successful candidates were announced on radio. This was the manner in which Professor Ahuwan got admitted into the Abuja Secondary School in 1962. Some of the subjects he offered in secondary school included, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Fine Arts, History, Mathematics, and English Language. At graduation, he actually won the best prize in Chemistry. To illustrate how excellent he was in Chemistry, Professor Ahuwan recalled an incident during the visit of the Premier of Northern Region, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, to the school. The Premier was so interested in education that he visited every secondary school in the Region at least once a year. The students always looked forward to his visit because many cows were slaughtered whenever he visited. At this visit, the Chemistry Teacher, an Indian by name Arshel Malik, asked Professor Ahuwan to welcome the Premier using the Morse code developed in 1836 by Samuel Morse. He did that so well that the Premier was highly impressed. The Premier actually shook hands with him.
Professor Ahuwan however, was also very passionate about Art. The Abuja Pottery was directly opposite the Abuja Secondary School. At the time he was in secondary school, the Pottery was a vibrant place. Michael Cardew headed it at the time and did not like children coming to disturb the potters at work. It was when Michael O’Brien
arrived the Pottery to learn how to make pots from Cardew that Professor Ahuwan and other interested students from the secondary school had a chance to sneak into the Pottery when Cardew was not looking. O’Brien was a Painter by training but later became interested in Pottery. At the time he arrived the Abuja Pottery from Britain, Davidson, a fellow Briton was the Principal of the Abuja Secondary School and Olumutami, the art teacher was just being transferred to Minna. O’Brien was employed to fill the vacancy while he still made pots at the Pottery. He liked taking the art students to show them around the Pottery. It was during one of such visits that Professor Ahuwan saw one of the potters, Gugwong, performing what appeared at the time to him as magic. Gugwong had prepared a lump of clay and placed it at the centre of a wheel head. In no time, with the turning of the wheel, this lump of clay grew into a vase. Professor Ahuwan was mesmerized. He began to look for the opportunity to try what Gugwong did. The opportunity came when Cardew went on leave and O’Brien became in charge of the Pottery. Professor Ahuwan was able to make vases using the kick wheel for the first time. Some of the vases he made while still in secondary school are illustrated in Plate 1.
Plate 1: Three Vases, c.1965, Stoneware, 30cm high, by Professor Abashiya Magaji Ahuwan The Abuja Pottery produced very good potters including Ladi Kwali whom Professor Ahuwan met and knew very well. Many of them, particularly Ladi Kwali were widely exhibited abroad through the promotional skills of Michael Cardew. They were also provided the opportunity to teach traditional pottery skills at some of the most famous Colleges and Universities in Britain.
When Professor Ahuwan completed secondary education in 1966, he wanted to join the military. He applied to the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA). Recommendation letters were usually required from the Principals, so Davidson gave one to him to take to the interview in Kaduna. After the interview, Professor Ahuwan heard nothing from the NDA. It was many years later when he visited Davidson in his house at Crystal Palace in England that he knew what Davidson wrote in the recommendation
letter he took to the interview. He told Professor Ahuwan that by 1965, he had begun to see the signs of civil war in Nigeria. He said that by 1966, the tension was solid enough to be sliced with a sword. He knew that anybody going to the military then would be lucky to survive the war, so he felt that he should not write a favourable recommendation when Professor Ahuwan asked for one. In place of the NDA, Davidson recommended him for an award to attend the Abingdon School at Berkshire in England to study for the Higher School Certificate (H.S.C.). Professor Ahuwan was successful and began school at Berkshire in 1967. Before he arrived, the art programme in the school taught everything else except pottery. At his instance, a kick wheel and kiln were provided for him. He studied History, Geography and English on weekdays and made pots by weekends. The school provided everything related to making pots for him. He obtained the Higher School Certificate in 1968.
When Professor Ahuwan completed secondary school, he maintained contact with Michael O’Brien. At his completion of the H.S.C. programme, O’Brien encouraged him to enroll at the West Surrey College of Art and Design, Farnham, the same school O’Brien attended. He went further to contact the Principal of the college on Professor Ahuwan’s behalf after which he was given the admission forms to fill and subsequently admitted in 1968. One of the experiences Professor Ahuwan still remembered about the college was his sharing a room with Sebastian Blackie, the son of a one-time Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury who became his best friend. He lived in the same room with him for over three years until Blackie got married and he had to change accommodation. Blackie eventually became the Principal of the college and later a Professor at the University of Derby in Britain. Professor Ahuwan also remembered how vibrant the college was in art. It organized exhibitions frequently
and maintained constant contact with London art centres, galleries and museums, which the students visited on regular basis. The college ran a five-year programme; two years as preliminary studies and three years of specialization. Professor Ahuwan chose to specialize in Ceramics and became the best graduating student in this field in the college in 1972 with a second-class upper degree. Upon returning to Nigeria in 1972, he taught for four months at the Government Girls Secondary School, Soba, before getting appointed the same year at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Again, it was O’Brien who was instrumental to this appointment. He contacted Chris Abashiya who was very close to the Vice Chancellor, Professor Ishaya Audu, and a certain British lady who worked in the Bursary but whose name Professor Ahuwan did not remember. They contacted the Vice Chancellor who instructed the Registrar, Michael Angulu, to issue an appointment letter to Professor Ahuwan. While lecturing in the Department of Fine Art, he met Professor Charles Counts who initially paid educational visits to the department until he too was eventually appointed to teach Ceramics. Professor Counts encouraged him to undertake further studies in Ceramics and recommended the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in the United States of America. Professor Ahuwan was admitted and he graduated with MSc in Ceramics in 1976. Having experienced two types of formal education in Ceramics, the British and the American, Professor Ahuwan was able to conclude that the British laid emphasis on skills while the Americans laid emphasis on creativity. He returned to the United States for a PhD in Educational Administration and Planning, which he obtained in 1981 from the University of North Texas, Denton.
Professor Ahuwan had attained other forms of education through participation at workshops, conferences, exhibitions and through visiting and lecturing at art schools and centres. In 1974, he was artist-in-residence at the Canadore College of Applied Arts and Technology, North Bay, Ontario, Canada. The staff and students were excited about his employment of Nigerian traditional methods of pottery. The same year, he visited the Haystack Mount School of Craft, Deer Isle, Maine in the United States of America. It was at Haystack that he met Frank Giorgini. The effect of this meeting is introduced under the Background of the Study. Professor Ahuwan also went on sabbatical leave to the United States of America in 1989 and taught at the Department of Art and Design, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia and at the New School for Social Research, Parsons School of Design, New York City. The same year, he participated at the Traditional Nigerian Workshop organized by Frank Giorgini at Giorgini’s studio in New York. In 1992, he attended the Entrepreneurship Development Workshop at the Industrial Development Centre in Zaria. He also attended the Maraba Pottery Workshop in 1996 entitled, Sanctuary of Our Ancestors. The Maraba Workshop reintroduced Professor Ahuwan’s works to the Nigerian art audience because it led to an exhibition of his works in Kaduna sponsored by the Alliance Francaise. All the exhibits sold.
Professor Ahuwan participated in six solo exhibitions, two two-man shows and eighteen group exhibitions. Some of the solo exhibitions include, the Nigerian Ceramic Exhibition held at Culbert House, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America in 1989 and the Hunkuyi Clay Experiment at the Alliance Francaise, Kaduna in 1996. Some of the group exhibitions include, An Exhibition of Fine Arts Teaching Staff at the British Council, Kaduna in 1974; Second United States International
Ceramics Symposium Exhibition in 1975 at Galinburg, Tennessee, United States of America; and the Vision 2010 Art and Photography Exhibition at Nicon Noga Hilton Hotel, Abuja in 1997. Over the period of four decades of teaching in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Professor Ahuwan had held several positions. He was head of Department of Industrial Design from 1990 to 1993 and returned for two tenures from 2002 to 2006. He was President of the Ceramics Association of Nigeria from 1986 to 1993. From 2004 to 2008, he became the dean of the Faculty of Environmental Design, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Professor Ahuwan had supervised over ten PhD and 30 M.A. researches. He had attended several conferences, published more than 29 journal papers and had contributed articles in several books. He had been external examiner to five institutions. He is a member of the Craft Potters Association of Nigeria and the Arts Council of the African Studies Association located in the United States of America. He was made an honorary member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City when his works were acquired by the museum in 1989. He was also a member of the Society of Nigerian Artists, Nigerian Society of Education Through Art, and member of the National Council for the Education of Ceramic Arts. He is a member of the Ceramic Researchers Association and chief editor of the Ashakwu Journal of Ceramics.
1.2 Background to the Study 1974 marked a significant landmark in the Ceramic career of Professor Ahuwan. Prior to this year, he was the typical British-art-school-trained potter who did not have room for anything else besides the norms. In 1974 he had already met Profesor Charles Counts in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. That year, the American State Department decided to invite some skilled Africans selected from all over the continent to tour the United States of America and Canada to demonstrate their skills. Professor Counts, whom Professor Ahuwan described as an “interesting character”, inferring that his influence was vast, recommended him to the American State Department and he was included on the invited list. The duration of the visit to America and Canada was three months and the engagement included teaching not only in schools but also at other locations where renowned artists worked. He considered that in order to make an impact, he would certainly not be working on a kick wheel, a familiar method in America and Canada. He therefore, opted to employ a traditional method of pottery to teach how to produce a Nigerian traditional pot, the Kim Kim, a percussion instrument. Since taking this decision in 1974 and because of the great impact it had on this tour of America and Canada, Professor Ahuwan had maintained the same traditional method in creating his works.
The musical instrument, Kim Kim, was common in Sakwak where Professor Ahuwan was born although it was not indigenous to it. Indeed he observed that he could not remember seeing any family producing pots in Sakwak, rather, there were excellent builders of barns for storing grains. The pots used in Sakwak were therefore, either bought from Atakar or Kafanchan, the neighbouring towns. The Kim Kim was employed to create music during dry season after the harvest when inhabitants of the
town could rest from farm work. It was played by women in the night by a fireplace or in moonlight to entertain both men and women who danced to the music created. Its present use has however, been diversified to other occasions such as during worship in some Churches. There are different variations of the Kim Kim but generally, it looks like a pot with a narrow neck and two openings, one at the top and another at the side. Rhythmically slapping the two openings or hitting the side of the pot with palms at chosen intervals can create varied sounds. Plate 2: Kim Kim, Year of Production and dimension unknown, Terracotta, by Frank Giorgini
In preparing for the trip to America and after deciding to employ traditional methods in his demonstrations, Professor Ahuwan set out to look for a traditional potter who could instruct him on how to produce traditional pots from building to firing. He went round the surrounding villages in Zaria looking for a good potter and ended up in Hunkuyi. He found many potters but one of the best was Mohammed Idi. Many Hausa potters specialized in making pots to be used in graveyards and not for cooking or storage. The pots were broken and the pieces used to cover the trench in which the
dead body is laid in the grave, so that the excavated soil would not have direct contact with it. Idi’s pots were exceptional and not meant for this purpose. They were masterpieces used for cooking and storing water or grains. Plate 3: Pot, c.1974, Terracotta, 25cm high, by Mohammed Idi
Having found Idi, the subsequent challenge for Professor Ahuwan was how to get him to Zaria to teach him. He met Professor Counts who was at the time the head of Ceramics Section, where Professor Ahuwan taught. He suggested to Professor Counts that Idi should be given a one-month casual appointment, which could be extended, as a studio assistant to teach traditional pottery to staff and students of the section. Professor Irene Wangboje was then the head of department. Both Professor Counts and Professor Wangboje agreed to this proposal and Idi was employed. That was the first time a traditional potter would be engaged in the department. That was how
Hunkuyi, the village Idi hailed from, became part of Professor Ahuwan’s work and that was how the works he produced during this period were referred to as the Hunkuyi Experiments. One of the schools Professor Ahuwan visited during the 1974 tour of America and Canada was the Haystack Mountain School of Craft, Deer Isle, Maine. Frank Giorgini was then a student at the school. Professor Ahuwan remembered him to be a student who seemed from a distance, not to show much interest in the demonstrations he gave the students but who in actual fact, was keenly observing him and taking mental notes of every detail. Giorgini also began to recognize the huge economic potentials of the Kim Kim. When Professor Ahuwan left Giorgini began making and selling the Kim Kim to musicians. He became successful selling them as he continued to introduce innovations to them such as fitting them with electronic microphones. When Professor Ahuwan returned from the trip, he felt that his works would benefit better if he allowed the environment of Hunkuyi to be part of his experience rather than Idi coming to Zaria to teach him. He therefore, acquired space in Idi’s house and made it his studio. Since then he had produced profound works worthy of assessment. 1.3 Statement of the Problem
It could be argued that an artist does not necessarily earn attention because of the number of years he or she has put into practice. Professor Ahuwan has been teaching Ceramics for over 40 years but as Jari (2014) observes, many, if not all the books published on Nigerian artists do not mention him including a comprehensive one published recently on over 100 Nigerian artists (Offoedu-Okeke, 2012). An artist may
put in several years producing mediocre work. It should still be possible to discuss him or her for the mediocre work produced. In the case of Professor Ahuwan, he produces profound works as illustrated by two examples earlier mentioned yet such works have not been comprehensively discussed. The first example constitutes the works he created and showed in the United States of America some of which were acquired by the famous Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1989. The second example includes the works, which he exhibited at the Alliance Francaise, Kaduna in 1996, which sold out. There have also been some interventions by Professor Ahuwan, which require appreciation and documentation such as his initiative to engage a traditional potter to demonstrate his techniques to students who were undertaking formal Western training and his introduction of Kim Kim to American students. Addressing these concerns will lead to the appraisal of the works of Professor Ahuwan with the view to documenting and properly locating his contributions to the practice of art and design in Nigeria. 1.4 Aim and Objectives of the Study The aim of this study is to analytically appraise the works of Professor Ahuwan. The objectives are to,
1. describe the works,
2. analyze the works,
3. interpret the works,
4. evaluate the works, and
5. produce an objective documentation of Ahuwan’s works.
1.5 Research Questions The questions the research attempts to address include,
1. can the works of Ahuwan be described;
2. can they be analyzed;
3. can they be interpreted or should they be interpreted;
4. can they be evaluated; and
5. can an objective documentation of Ahuwan’s works be produced?
1.6 Significance of the Study Investigating the works of an artist or designer has the potential of revealing several things of significance, especially if such a designer is Professor Ahuwan. Through the study of his works, a little about his background has been revealed. It is established for instance, that the courses he took in secondary school were a combination of science based and arts based courses. Indeed he was the best student in Chemistry and he also offered Biology, Geography, Mathematics along with other arts courses. If such combinations were possible during his days in secondary school, why are they not possible presently? Is the change to the present combination where arts students are restricted to arts courses and those in science are restricted to science courses a good development or a bad one? This research did not set out to answer these questions but it provides clues as to whether or not the product of the older system was a great achiever.
The Hunkuyi Experiments of Professor Ahuwan are probably revealed in their full extent for the first time in this research. They illustrate the possibilities that abound in imbibing methods, which are local but effective. Several researches have been made
on how to produce colourful local glazes (kindly refer to the works of Yusuf, 1990; Ewule, 1990; and Ebeigbe, 1990), and several researches have also been made on how to improve methods of firing which can fuse these glazes successfully (please refer to the works of Ali, 1991; Alkali, 1995; and Areo, 1993). Achieving desired results has however, remained a challenge as glazed wares continue to maintain earth colours and firing continues to be expensive. The Hunkuyi Experiments show works, which are produced cheaply, fired cheaply, and although they maintain earth colours as well, their finishing has a variation of sheen pleasing to behold. There is therefore, in the Hunkuyi Experiments of Professor Ahuwan, an alternative to studying Ceramics using local materials and methods. 1.7 Justification of the Study Having spent four years studying for a B.A. in Ceramics and being in the third year studying for a Master of Arts in the same field, the researcher has spent over seven years cumulatively as a student and yet she cannot authoritatively claim that she knows the works of her teachers. This is caused by the rare encounter with the works since exhibitions of such works in the institution are hardly held. A study such as this is therefore, justified since it becomes one of the avenues for many to encounter the works of Professor Ahuwan whom many students know only as a teacher, a former head of department or a former dean of faculty and not as a Ceramic artist.
The research focus of a department such as the Department of Industrial Design may need to be tailored towards the study of the works of lecturers like Professor Ahuwan. His engagement with the Kim Kim, illustrates how, if the information about his interventions in the United States of America with this musical instrument were
available much earlier to many Nigerian Ceramic artists, there would have been several Nigerian versions of Frank Giorginis opening up ceramic related industries and employing labour, thereby creating wealth. This research is also justified because it documents an aspect of the history of Ceramics development in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria particularly the aspect of the employment of a local craftsman, Mohammed Idi, as a studio assistant to demonstrate local pot making methods to staff and students. The result of such an intervention has already been referred to. 1.8 Scope of the Study The researcher was not able to determine how many works Professor Ahuwan had ever produced. He was not sure himself since he did not keep an exhaustive record of the works. Attempt was made to establish where they were located and visits were paid to the locations to document and appreciate them.