ABOUT DAME MAGDALENE ODUNDO
Dame Magdalene Anyango Namakhiya Odundo DBE (born 1950) is a Kenyan-born British studio potter, who now lives in Farnham, Surrey.
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. After training in Farnham, Surrey, she completed her qualifications in foundation art and graphics at the Cambridge School of Art, where she began to specialise in ceramics.
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. Many of the vessels Odundo creates are reminiscent of the human form, often following the curves of the spine, stomach, or hair. 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: The British Museum, London; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, New York; National Museum of African Art, Washington DC; The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield.
In 2019 there was a major exhibition that centred on a group of more than 50 of her works, alongside other works of art that Odundo saw as relating to or influencing her work; the exhibition was titled 'The Journey of Things’. The show was displayed in two locations: The Hepworth Wakefield, West Yorkshire and then the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, East Anglia.
ABOUT SHAWANDA CORBETT
You’re told that you need two hands to make certain things, but that’s not true at all. It’s just about problem-solving.’ So says Shawanda Corbett as we chat in her studio at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford, where the Mississippi-born ceramic sculptor and performance artist is currently studying for a doctorate in fine arts.
Behind us sits a line of thrown and assembled vessels: tall forms with undulating profiles and playful, painterly designs. ‘To throw on the wheel, it turns out that you actually only need one point of pressure. You can use the wheel’s centrifugal force as the counterbalance.’
Each of these pieces is destined for her first solo exhibition, at Corvi-Mora in London (16 June - 31 July 2020). Bagging a solo show at a gallery of this calibre is an impressive feat for any ceramic artist early in their career, but particularly for one who has had to invent a bespoke throwing technique – Corbett was born with one arm and without legs.
As we speak, she’s plotting a piece to perform at the opening of the Corvi-Mora show, where she will be surrounded by 40-odd vessels. ‘I’m very much influenced by [German choreographer] Pina Bausch’s work. But really, I just love dancing.’ Corbett’s brother, Albert, is a choreographer and dancer, making him an ideal collaborator. ‘Because he is very familiar with how I move, he choreographs some of my work. It can be hard for dancers to break from ideas of body type,’ she reflects. ‘If you don’t have those appendages, how do you envision those movements? Like my ceramics, it’s about finding a non-traditional way of going about it.’
‘I’ve been thinking about the theorist Donna Haraway’s essay ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ , which explores how mechanical objects relate to human life. It’s pretty outdated, so I’m trying to question and update it from my perspective.’ What does it mean to be a cyborg? For Corbett, it means embracing the fact that, as a physically disabled person, she is reliant on machines to get through each day.