Dame Magdalene Odundo’s Artistry Takes Center Stage in Largest North American Exhibition at Toronto’s Gardiner Museum

Renowned Kenyan-British artist Dame Magdalene Odundo is currently being showcased in the most extensive North American exhibition of her career, hosted at the prestigious Gardiner Museum in Toronto.

Photo credit: Gardiner Museum

Dame Magdalene Odundo, a highly acclaimed ceramic artist is set to make her Canadian debut this fall at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto.

The exhibition, called “Magdalene Odundo: A Dialogue with Objects,” will open on October 19, 2023, and will be the largest display of Odundo’s work ever seen in North America.

Co-curated by Dame Magdalene Odundo herself and Dr. Sequoia Miller, chief curator and deputy director at the Gardiner Museum, this exhibition is presented by the Gardiner Museum and will remain open to the public until April 21, 2024.

Since the early 1980s, this British-Kenyan artist has been dedicated to her unique vision, centered around exquisitely crafted ceramic vessels. These vessels, entirely handcrafted and fired to achieve a smooth, lustrous finish, are distinctively Odundo’s while incorporating elements from various global cultures and traditions in ceramics and other art forms.

Odundo’s sensual vessels, with their vibrant orange and velvety black surfaces, draw inspiration from the human form, invoking a sense of vitality and motion with their rounded bodies and elongated necks. Each piece is created over months, with years of experimentation and technical mastery poured into each creation. Odundo’s artistry is celebrated in renowned collections worldwide, including the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, The British Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Victoria & Albert Museum, and now, the Gardiner Museum.

Magdalene Odundo: A Dialogue with Objects” follows almost four years after Odundo’s largest-ever exhibition, “Magdalene Odundo: The Journey of Things” at The Hepworth Wakefield, England. Similar to the acclaimed British presentation, the Gardiner Museum exhibition will showcase Odundo’s work alongside contextual objects from the realms of art and archaeology, offering insights into her diverse global influences.

As a student in England, Odundo began exploring British museums, where she initially encountered such objects. Despite being assembled as symbols of colonial power and authority, Odundo engaged with these collections as an artist, a woman, and a potter hailing from the Global South, finding connections between them and her upbringing in Kenya.

More than 20 pieces from Odundo’s artistic journey, including new creations directly from her studio, will be on display alongside objects handpicked by the artist from the Gardiner Museum’s permanent collection. Additionally, objects on loan from prominent Toronto museums and private collectors will be integrated into the exhibition. “I always hoped I would be invited to have an exhibition in Canada, and to have it at the Gardiner Museum is very special for me, especially as one of my favourite pieces to come out of my studio is in their collection,” said Odundo. One such piece, the carbonized terracotta vessel “Untitled,” crafted by Odundo in 2003, will be a highlight of the exhibition. It is the only work by the artist in a public collection in Canada. Odundo expressed her excitement about the prospect of reuniting and showcasing such a significant number of her pieces together.

The objects on display span diverse geographies, time periods, and artistic mediums, creating a dialogue between Odundo’s work and items as varied as an ancient Cycladic marble figurine, a Ndebele apron from South Africa, and a painting by the late Trinidadian Canadian artist Denyse Thomasos. “The exhibition foregrounds Magdalene Odundo’s masterful, reverent vessels while cultivating conversations around the role of museums, cultural hierarchy, colonialism, and the potential for generative cultural exchange,” said Dr. Miller.

Magdalene Odundo: A Dialogue with Objects” is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring essays penned by Dr. Sequoia Miller, Dr. Elizabeth Harney, Dr. Nehal El Hadi, and Dr. Barbara Thompson, with a foreword by Sue Jefferies, former Curator of Modern & Contemporary Ceramics at the Gardiner Museum. The catalogue is scheduled to be available in spring 2024.