Magdalene Odundo

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Magdalene Odundo
Thrown, Burnished, Reduction Fired pot by Magdalene Odundo (YORYM-2004.1.950).JPG
Untitled Burnished, reduction fired pot by Magdalene Odundo from the W.A. Ismay collection at York Art Gallery
Magdalene Anyango Namakhiya Odundo

Known forStudio pottery

Magdalene Anyango Namakhiya Odundo OBE (born 1950) is a Kenyan-born British studio potter.

Early life and education[edit]

Magdalene Odundo was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and received her early education in both India and Kenya. She attended the Kabete National Polytechnic in Kenya to study Graphics and Commercial Art and later moved to England in 1971 to follow her chosen vocation in Graphic Design. Magdalene completed her qualifications in foundation art and graphics at the Cambridge College of Art.[1]

After a while in England she discovered pottery, and in 1974–75 she visited Nigeria, visiting the Pottery Training Centre in Abuja, and Kenya to study traditional hand-built pottery techniques.[2] She also travelled to San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico to observe the making of black-burnished vessels. In 1976, Odundo received a BA from West Surrey College of Art & Design (now University for the Creative Arts).[3] She then earned a master's 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, before returning to teach at Surrey Institute of Art & Design (now University for the Creative Arts) in 1997, becoming Professor of Ceramics in 2001.[3] In March 2016 she was inaugurated as an Emerita Professor of the University for the Creative Arts, with a celebration event held at the Farnham campus against the backdrop of her important work in glass, Transition II.[4] 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 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.[5] She uses the same types of techniques used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans and likes to take inspiration from countries like China and Mexico.[6] Her graphic design skills still remain with her as she often sketches her interest in natural forms and the design of form to help her with her ceramic creations.[7] Many of the vessels Odundo creates are reminiscent of the human form, often following the curves of the spine, stomach, or hair.[5] Furthermore, the shape of expression of her vessels are symbolic of the female body; one of her most famous pieces is a black and ocher vessel with a curved base and elongated neck resembling the form of a pregnant woman. Her work is now a part of permanent collections of nearly 50 international museums including:

In 2006, her work was presented in an exhibition titled "Resonance and Inspiration" at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art of the University of Florida. This was her first solo exhibition in the US since 1997 and her first solo appearance in Florida. This exhibit was also the first time her drawings and sketches were presented alongside her vessels.[10] Her free-form drawing style replicates the same shape and form as her vessels, serving as a glimpse into how Odundo perceives her three-dimensional works in two dimensions.

Artistic legacy[edit]

Odundo was awarded the African Art Recognition Award by Detroit Institute of Arts in 2008, and the African Heritage Outstanding Achievement in the Arts award in 2012, together with honorary doctorates from the University of Florida (2014) and University of the Arts London (2016).[11] She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Art in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2008.[12]

Odundo has been recognized as a significant player in contemporary ceramics, making her name a large contributor to African Art in the US during the 90's. As said by Augustus Casely-Hayford, "[She draws] on something of the wisdom and experience of the Leach, or a line borrowed from ancient European antiquity, to create a trans-global, trans-temporal visual system of her own; modern, yet simultaneously old, African yet resolutely European..."[9]

In 2017 it was announced that Odundo would take up the role of Chancellor of the University of the Creative Arts from June 2018.[13]

Burnished Jar from the W.A. Ismay at York Art Gallery


  1. ^ Joris, Yvonne G. J. M. (1994). Magdalene Odundo. Cip-Gegevens Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag. p. 68.
  2. ^ Spring, Chris (2008). Angaza Afrika: African Art Now. London: Laurence King. p. 234. ISBN 978-1-85669-548-0.
  3. ^ a b Magdalene Odundo resumé.
  4. ^ "UCA Emerita Professorship awarded to international contemporary artist", UAC, 4 March 2016.
  5. ^ a b Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection. London: Giles. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5. Archived from the original on 2011-09-10. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
  6. ^ Joris (1994). Magdalene Odundo. p. 7.
  7. ^ Joris (1994). Magdalene Odundo. p. 45.
  8. ^ Berns, Marla C (28 July 2014). "Odundo, Magdalene". Grove Art Online – via Grove Art Online.
  9. ^ a b Soppelsa, Robert T. (Winter 1996). "Ceramic Gestures: New Vessels by Magdelene Odundo". UCLA James S Coleman African Studies Center. 29: 74 – via JSTOR.
  10. ^ Poynor, Robin; Moon, MacKenzie (Summer 2007). "Resonance and Inspiration: New Works by Magdalene Odundo by Magdalene Odundo". African Arts. 40: 86–87 – via JSTOR.
  11. ^ "Honorary Awards 2016", UAL.
  12. ^ "No. 58729". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 2008. p. 12.
  13. ^ Wanjohi, John, "Kenyan-Born Prof Magdalene Odundo NamedChancellor of UK's University of Creative Arts",, 20 September 2017.


  • Berns, Marla C., Ceramic Gestures, New Vessels by Magdalene Odundo, Santa Barbara: University Art Museum, University of California, 1995.
  • Jegede, Dele, Contemporary African Art, Five Artists, Diverse Trends, Indianapolis, Ind.: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2000.
  • Slayter-Ralph, Anthony, Magdalene Odundo, London: Lund Humphries, 2004.

External links[edit]