Dame Professor Magdalene Odundo DBE received an Honorary Doctor of Arts from ARU in 2022. She is one of the world’s most esteemed ceramic artists.
Born in Nairobi, Dame Magdalene received her early education in India and Kenya, before embarking on her professional career as a commercial layout artist with a local advertising agency. She moved to England in 1971 to gain exposure to a greater diversity of creative styles and undertook a course at ARU’s Cambridge School of Art.
It was in Cambridge that Magdalene’s love of pottery began to flower, and the hours spent in the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology were to have a lasting influence.
After completing her studies in Cambridge, Magdalene moved on, to study for her BA at West Surrey College of Art and Design, now UCA Farnham.
After graduating, she gained a three-year teaching post at the Commonwealth Institute in London and later attended the Royal College of Art, gaining her MA in 1982.
Magdalene travelled to Nigeria in 1974, studying at the Abuja Pottery for a year, before returning to Kenya to study traditional hand-built pottery techniques. She has subsequently travelled the world exploring vernacular ceramic traditions with her own distinctive work embodying this research.
In 2006, Magdalene's 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. Her free-form drawing style replicates the same shape and form as her vessels, serving as a glimpse into how she perceives her three-dimensional works in two dimensions.
In 2008, Magdalene received the African Art Recognition Award from the Detroit Art Institute and in 2012, the African Heritage 40 Years Anniversary Award. In 2014, she was named Visual Artist of the Year, at The Journal Culture Awards and in 2019, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Ceramics Festival in Aberystwyth.
In 2012, her piece Untitled, 1991, sold for $134,500 (£86,500) at Sotheby's New York, making it the most expensive work auctioned work by a living British ceramicist. In 2020, Angled Mixed Coloured Piece reached £200,000, and this record was again broken at Sotheby’s during a British art evening sale in 2021, when Untitled, a ceramic piece from 1986 sold for £378,000, more than four times its high estimate.
In 2019, a major exhibition centred on a group of more than 50 of her works, alongside other works of art that Magdalene saw as relating to or influencing her work. Titled The Journey of Things, the exhibition was displayed in two locations: The Hepworth Wakefield, West Yorkshire and then the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, East Anglia.
Magdalene’s distinctive, polished vessels are informed by a diverse range of art and craft traditions. Her works have achieved world-wide recognition and can be found in private and public collections around the globe, including the Metropolitan Museum and the Smithsonian Museum in New York.
Magdalene has used her influence and experience to powerful effect, supporting a wide range of arts and education bodies. She has served as a member of the British Council Art Advisory Panel, as a board member of the Royal College of Art, and as a patron and trustee of the National Society for Education in Art & Design.
After 15 years as Professor of Ceramics at UCA Farnham, then later as Professor Emerita, Magdalene was appointed Chancellor of UCA in 2018.
In 2020, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list for Services to the Arts and Arts Education.
Dame Magdalene’s name has become synonymous with great art, a dedication to teaching, and a remarkable ability to connect cultures from around the globe.