- Date of birth
Magdalene Odundo DBE is a contemporary potter whose handmade, meticulously burnished vessels evoke the human form and draw upon a variety of artistic traditions.
Born in Kenya, where she was initially trained as a graphic artist, Odundo began experimenting with clay and other materials after moving to London at age 21. She traveled back to Africa in 1974–75, first to Nigeria and then to her native Kenya, to study millennia-old hand-building and low-fire firing techniques. Another impactful experience was her exposure to the making of the typical polished blackware by potters of the San Ildefonso Pueblo in New Mexico. Odundo adapted these techniques, building her pots from coils of clay rather than throwing them on a wheel, and burnishing their surfaces to a fine sheen. These vessels, non-functional and allusive rather than representational, blend the meanings and functions of pottery traditions from various cultures and histories, including Attic vases (Greece), ceramics from the Jōmon period (Japan), and pots from the Nupe culture (Nigeria). Solemn and elegant at once, some of Odundo’s pots suggest movement and dance, and many more allude to the bodies of women. Whether through a swollen womb indicative of pregnancy or an elongated head and halo-like hairstyle of a member of the Mangbetu nobility of the Congo, the female form and female standards of beauty are at the core of Odundo’s work.
In her review of the exhibition Magdalene Odundo: The Journey of Things (2019), Sibylla Gbadamosi Wood remarked, “That which is known about the pot but not seen, constitutes its secret and invisible power.”