LADY MAGDALENE ODUNDO
Professor Magdalene Ayango N. Odundo’s clay vessels transcend the confinements of pottery, craft, or function. A Kenyan artist, based in the UK, her clay works have entered into an ethereal realm of contemporary art that can only be described in terms of beauty. They blend multiple associations of meanings and functional references that speak evocatively of past ceramic traditions and heritage, while at the same time appearing utterly contemporary.
Magdalene’s ceramic vessels have a deliberate association with the age-old pottery traditions of Africa, and reflect the artist’s thorough knowledge of the world’s ceramic history. Professor Odundo is acclaimed as one of the world’s leading ceramicists, and is probably Kenya’s most famous living artist. She comes from an area of Western Kenya that is renowned for its pottery traditions, but she has also traveled to Nigeria and many other parts of the world to study the ways women produce pottery, using traditions of hand-building and firing that are thousands of years old. Upon returning to the London area, where she still lives, Odundo completed a master’s degree in ceramics, and maintains an intuitive technique distinctly her own. She continues to teach ceramics at the University College for Creative Arts, previously known as the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. After numerous exhibitions around the world, including a successful pioneer exhibition at the original African Heritage Gallery on Kenyatta Avenue during the United Nations Decade for Women conference in Nairobi in l985, collectors, museums and galleries around the world now seek her magnificent vessels. In recent years, her pots have brought record prices whenever they appear at auction. Magdalene was given an OBE by the Queen of England for her outstanding work in ceramics, the only Kenyan to receive such an honour.
Magdalene’s quest to contemplate, articulate and shape each pot is a process that may take months; her quest for perfection is passionate, restless and gratifying to her and the viewers. Each of her works is unique and defies easy categorization. Today, one of her pots appears at the entry of the British Museum in London. Another is on loan from the Murumbi Trust to the Nairobi Gallery at the Old PCs Office Building in Nairobi, the oldest building in the city. There, it inhabits a place of honor at the foyer of the gallery at “Point Zero,” the point of the city from whence all measurements to other cities and locations are taken.
Magdalene is now achieving international acclaim for her phenomenal glass works: see photo.