The potter from the Nile

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 11.26.38

Siddig el’Nigoumi, photo: Ben Boswell

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

This week a selection of work by the Sudanese potter Siddig el’Nigoumi goes on show at our partner gallery, London’s Contemporary Ceramics Centre. Photographer Stephen Brayne, who took the photographs for a new book on Nigoumi, recalls meeting him

When the potter Siddig el’Nigoumi came to the Craftsmen Potters Shop, as it was called in 1975, in the old premises in Marshall Street in London, he brought with him a batch of new work: a small selection of beautifully burnished and engraved earthenware dishes.

I was lucky enough to be running the shop at the time and two things stood out to me from our first meeting. Firstly, Nigoumi himself had such a charming and gentle presence, with a ready smile and a sense of delight in his work. He carried with him a real sense of courtesy, which was never formal, but rather graceful.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Siddig el'Nigoumi plate, photo: Stephen Brayne

Siddig el’Nigoumi plate, photo: Stephen Brayne

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

At the time the shop was full, in the main, of shelves of stoneware domestic ware –  largely wheel-thrown work bearing the influence of Bernard Leach and the ever influential Harrow Ceramics Department. There were, of course, a small number of hand-built, more sculptural objects, and some figurative work, but these were the exception.

In this context Nigoumi’s work stood out as being utterly different.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Siddig el'Nigoumi plate, photo: Stephen Brayne

Siddig el’Nigoumi plate, photo: Stephen Brayne

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Much of it was burnished earthenware, either terracotta or a beautiful, smoked, dark brown, with engraved calligraphy, animal figures and abstract patterns – images drawn from observations from his daily life or from his Sudanese culture. As a result, there might be the pattern of a crossword or a group of dancing warriors, a depiction of Concorde, or a dish celebrating the wedding of Charles and Diana, in Arabic calligraphy and with a small Union Jack.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 15.19.40

Siddig El’Nigoumi, ceramic hippo. Photo: Stephen Brayne

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Then there were stoneware pieces, where the engraved line was often supplanted by a subtle slip-trailed design – fluid and flexible – adding another dimension to Nigoumi’s work. Here was a spiral of green dots, radiating hypnotically from the centre of the dish to its rim, olive green on rich, nutty brown, or a delicate image of flowers in a vase, with stylised birds and his ever present signature of a small scorpion: a poetic signifier of his Sudanese heritage.

Many years later, in May of this year, it was with delight that I took up the commission to photograph Nigoumi’s work for Alan Windsor’s new book, Siddig El’Nigoumi: A Sudanese Potter in England. Work from private collections had been gathered at his daughter Nadia’s house, by Nigoumi’s wife, the artist Vicki Nigoumi. The body of work was broader than any I had seen before, encompassing paintings, weaving, several stunning animal pots (with wonderfully observed depictions of a hippopotamus and a hyena), and a heroic bottle vase with engravings of elephants and a hunter.

Many stories and fond memories of Nigoumi were exchanged.

He would have been delighted to know that his work will return to the CPA, in the gallery they now run, the Contemporary Ceramics Centre, at 63 Great Russell Street, with an exhibition of his work, some of which will be for sale, to mark the launch of this book.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Siddig el’Nigoumi: A Sudanese Potter in England by Alan Windsor is published by Lund Humphries; some of Nigoumi’s pieces will be on show and for sale at the CCC until 21 November; cpaceramics.com
For more on
Stephen Brayne’s work see stephenbrayne.com