Earth Works
Wallpaper|March 2019

A new exhibition celebrates the global sweep of Kenya-born British artist Magdalene Odundo

Tom Morris

Artist Magdalene Odundo is standing in her studio in Surrey, alongside architect Farshid Moussavi and Hepworth Wakefield chief curator Andrew Bonacina. In front of them lie images of Henry Moore sculptures, alabaster jars from Ancient Egypt, a 19thcentury Ghanaian ritual doll and a Cycladic figure dating back to 2700 BC. The trio are discussing how these wide-ranging historical, cultural and technical references have influenced Odundo and, more pressingly, how to process this ahead of the biggest ever display of her work. On 16 February, ‘The Journey of Things’ will open at Hepworth Wakefield, pitching over 50 of Odundo’s sculptures alongside a panoply of contextual items from art, archaeology and fashion. The show aims to shed light on Odundo’s unique practice. It’s a retrospective in name, but in reality is a much broader take on numerous histories of art.

‘Space and place have always been very interesting to me,’ explains Odundo. Born in Kenya in 1950, she first moved to the UK aged 21 to attend the Cambridge School of Art, where she began to specialise in ceramic. A wanderlust and thirst for creative inspiration and technical knowledge saw the young Odundo travel to Nigeria, New Mexico and China, where in each case she absorbed elements of vernacular craftsmanship, which all fed into her visual language and found new form in her large-scale vessels. ‘I am a product of travel, and when you travel you gather a lot of information,’ she reflects.

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