Magdalene Anyango Namakhiya Odundo is born in OBE, Kenya in 1950. She received her early education in both India and Kenya. She moved to England in 1971 to continue her training in graphic art. In 1974-1975, she visited Nigeria and Kenya to study traditional hand-built pottery techniques. She also traveled to San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico to observe the making of blackware vessels. In 1976, Odundo received a BA from St. Joseph's College of Art and Design. She then earned a masters degree at the Royal College of Art in London. She taught at the Commonwealth Institute in London from 1976 to 1979 and at the Royal College of Art in London from 1979 to 1982. She lives and works in Surrey. Odundo's best-known ceramics are hand built, using a coiling technique. Each piece is burnished, covered with slip, and then burnished again. The pieces are fired in wood chips in an oxidizing atmosphere, which turns them a red-orange. A second firing in an oxygen-poor (reducing) atmosphere causes the clay to turn black; this is known as reduction-firing. Many of the vessels she creates are reminiscent of the human form, often following the curves of the spine, stomach, or hair. She is Professor of Ceramics at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, England. Awarded the African Art Recognition Award by Detroit Art Institute in 2008. She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) at the 2008 Birthday Honours.
Images: Portrait of Magdalene Odundo, 2012; portrait around 2014 (source anthony slayter-ralph); work, untitled, 1994 (Sotheby's London); object (source collections.artsmia.org); group, around 2013 (source Gallery Pierre Marie Giraud).
Odundo's work explicitly acknowledges a link to the pottery traditions of Africa—indeed, in much of Africa, ceramic is a medium primarily associated with female creativity, and the anthropomorphic references to the female body in her work literalize that connection. The work, however, reveals a thorough knowledge of non-African traditions, including the complex vessel shapes of ancient Cyprus, the geometry of Cycladic figures, the heavy forms of Japan's Jomon culture, and the unusual gourd-shaped pots of the Pokot of Kenya, among many others. The blend of influences present in her work prevents Odundo from being pigeonholed as a strictly African artist. Her profound exploration of the technical and expressive possibilities of the ceramic medium has created work unique within the landscape of contemporary art (text: www.19paulfort.com).