Magdalene Odundo was born in Nairobi and received her early education in both India and Kenya. She attended the Nairobi Polytechnic in Kenya to study Graphics and Commercial Art and moved to England in 1971 follow her chosen vocation in Graphic Design and completed qualifications in foundation art and graphics at the Cambridge College of Art.
After a while in England she discovered pottery and in 1974-1975, she visited Nigeria and Kenya to study traditional hand-built pottery techniques. She also traveled to San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico to observe the making of blackware vessels. In 1976, Odundo received a BA from St. Joseph's College of Art and Design. She then earned a masters 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. 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.
Odundo uses the same types of techniques used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans and likes to take inspiration from countries like China and Mexico. 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.
Many of the vessels she creates are reminiscent of the human form, often following the curves of the spine, stomach, or hair. Her work may be found in museum and private collections worldwide. She is Professor of Ceramics at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, England. She has been awarded the African Art Recognition Award by Detroit Art Institute in 2008. She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) at the 2008 Birthday Honours. She is represented by Anthony Slayter-Ralph gallery.