Magdalene Odundo

1950 | Nairobi, Kenya
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Magdalene Odundo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

© Photo: Celestine R Henderson / Bridgeman Images

Kenyan visual artist.

The art of Magdalene Odundo has an astonishing presence that captivates the beholder. Her unique career is literally of her own making. It is based upon her superb mastery and elegant, modernist reinterpretation of the primordial, unglazed clay vessel, which has engaged her passionately for five decades. While her practice has myriad sources, a strong reference is to classical, Nile valley Kerma ware, in particular to the red and black funerary beakers created during the second millennium BCE (1750-1450 BCE). Indeed, M. Odundo’s technique is essentially African; she hand builds her vessels with coils and by burnishing; their colour is largely the result of several, somewhat unpredictable, kiln firings. She creates her works in series like an age set; they readily convey human qualities. The intensity and length of the process delimits her output and, thus, the accumulation of works for the purpose of solo exhibitions. She has also experimented with other fire-based technologies, such as metal and glass, including the very memorable collaborative, site-specific glass installation Transition II (2014-2019).

Everything follows from her art making: her object-led research throughout the world, her devotion to teaching – tertiary and workshops, her focused collaboration with colleagues to foster international ceramics art education and a history of art in Kenya, her curatorial endeavours. Many public collections have acquired M. Odundo’s works, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London; the National Museum of African Art de la Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC (where her vessel was its first purchase of modern African art); and the Nairobi National Museum. Despite the limits in her production, four major solo exhibitions of her work have been held in public galleries, such as at The Hepworth Wakefield and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, in 2019; in addition, she has curated several thematic exhibitions, for example, African Metalwork during the Africa 95 season.

A professor emerita of the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, England, with several honorary degrees, her achievements have been further recognised by two stellar appointments: Chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts (2018) and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE), awarded for her contribution to art and arts education (2020).

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Elsbeth Joyce Court

Publication made in the framework of the Season Africa2020.

© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions

Magdalene Odundo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Magdalene Odundo, Pot (2), © Celestine R Henderson / Bridgeman Images

Magdalene Odundo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Magdalene Odundo, Terdrop I, 1996, terracotta and slip, 50.8 x 40.6 cm, © Art Institute Chicago

Magdalene Odundo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Magdalene Odundo, Vase, 1982, hand-built (coiled) earthenware in an asymmetrical bag-shaped form with lustrous metallic surface, h. 28.5 cm, © British Museum

Magdalene Odundo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Magdalene Odundo, Untitled, 2000, a handbuilt, burnished ceramic, assymetrical black ceramic vessel, © British Museum

Magdalene Odundo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Magdalene Odundo, Untitled, 1997, red clay, 50.2 x 33cm, © Metropolitan museum

Magdalene Odundo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Magdalene Odundo, Symmetrical Reduced Black Narrow-Necked Tall Piece, 1990, terracotta, 40.6 x 25.4 x 25.4 cm, 16 x 10 x 10 in., © Brooklyn Museum

Magdalene Odundo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Magdalene Odundo, Untitled, 1994, terracotta, hight: 50.5 cm, private collection

Magdalene Odundo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Magdalene Odundo, Pot, 1997, made of oxidised terracotta, 78 x 28 cm, © British Museum

Magdalene Odundo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Magdalene Odundo, Pot (1), © Celestine R Henderson / Bridgeman Images

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