Tradition

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Kenya; Magdalene Anyango N. Odundo, born 1950

Vessel

Ceramic

Reduced angled spouted black piece

1990

H x W x D: 44.5 x 28.6 x 28.6 cm (17 1/2 x 11 1/4 x 11 1/4 in.)

Museum purchase

91-4-1

Photograph by Franko Khoury

National Museum of African Art

Smithsonian Institution

In the Yoruba language, the full sense of the Yoruba word for “tradition” or asa (“style”) involves a process of selection from a collection or from an available range of options. The implication is, as Rowland Abiodun explains, that ‘“tradition’ is never static and cannot be, since the concept of asa already embodies the need for change, initiative, and creativity.” These philosophical principles inform the work of many contemporary African artists, such as Kenyan ceramicist Magdalene Odundo, whose “sensuous pots return again and again to the millennial African round-bottomed, swell-bodied form without ever exhausting or repeating it” (Vogel 1991). Odundo's sense of originality lies in the ability to improvise, rather than in claiming to invent something completely new.