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NCAI Women in Sculpture Panel

As part of our online programming, and following from the Ledge Sculpture intervention at the Royal Academy of Arts, on the 7th of September 2021, NCAI hosted a panel discussion with Wangechi Mutu, Magdalene Odundo DBE and Chelenge Van Rampelberg, moderated by Mukami Kuria. 

You can watch the recording of the panel discussion here.

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Chelenge Van Rampelberg


Born and raised in Kericho, Kenya, Chelenge Van Rampelberg now lives and works at the edge of the Nairobi National Park. Van Rampelberg, regarded as one of Kenya’s first female sculptors, came into contact with the technical elements of wood sculpting at an early age, watching and learning from the traditional techniques of building huts.


She works with a variety of materials: for her sculptures, she uses woods ranging from doum palm, ebony and jacaranda to avocado and sikotoi. The type of wood, and its grain, colour and texture, is of key importance, as elements that anchor Van Rampelberg’s artistic vision in indigenous Kenya. 


She began carving in 1989 when an avocado tree threatened to fall on her house. She would often dream that the dead half of the tree would fall on her bedroom, splitting her and her husband’s bed. Eventually calling a tree cutter to cut the tree for firewood, she began to see the potential for the wood to be turned into sculptures as the branches fell to the ground. 


In sculpting from dead trees, renewing the wood and bringing the material to life, there is a life-giving element to her practice as well as an innate and intuitive understanding of materials and of wood. Van Rampelberg says sometimes the wood has its own image, and as a sculptor recognising its potentiality, her task is to read it and help the image emerge. Writer Zihan Kassam notes that: Chelenge Van Rampelberg grants her wood permission to say what it has to. She considers its natural curvature, the flow of the grain, following its lead and letting it guide her as she carves tall, amorphous figures.


Her solo shows include: “Dream of Last Night, Chelenge Van Rampelberg”, Sotokoto Gallery, Fukoka, Japan, 1996; “Eve”, Mayfair Court Holiday Inn, Nairobi, Kenya, 1999; “Gorillas on my mind””, One Off Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya, 2013; 


Group shows include: “ninety-two”, Gallery Watatu, Nairobi, Kenya, 1992; Winds From Africa”, Kaitakudo Gallery, Gifu, Japan, 1996; “Labyrinth: 50 Years of Art in Kenya”, Belgian Embassy, Nairobi, Kenya, 2013; “The still clock of Lamu”, One Off Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya, 2014; Group Exhibition, One Off Gallery at Sankara Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya, 2016. 

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Wangechi Mutu's focus on self-reflection through the use of figuration as well as her experiments  with various materials, has remained consistent throughout her practice. In her work, the female  body has been the primary map to understanding the most personal as well as the most  universal existential questions about identity, race, living in our bodies and experiences related  to being human. Using a variety of media including performance, painting, collage, sculpture,  installation and video she has continued making objects and painting in order to understand  and to question our shared humanness, our shared femaleness, our traumas and our common  origins. 

With her characteristic morphing, hybrid, and organic forms, she portrays alienation as a shared  experience and our need for mythologization and image-creation as a means of representing  ourselves and our consciousness. 

In Mutu’s work she shows how our identity has a discernable, performative quality and she  invents characters to rewrite and reimagine herself and others; breaking and recreating  restrictive man-made codes that are often at odds with our perception of ourselves. 

Mutu has participated in several major solo exhibitions in institutions worldwide, most recently at  The Metropolitan Museum of Art “The Façade Commission: Wangechi Mutu, The NewOnes, will  free Us” and currently at The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Legion of Honor Museum  “Wangechi Mutu: I Am Speaking, Are You listening?”. Mutu works in New York and Nairobi,  Kenya.

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Magdalene Odundo DBE is an internationally acclaimed ceramic artist, who received her early education in India and Kenya before moving to England in 1971. After completing her undergraduate at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham in 1976, she undertook a teaching post at the Commonwealth Institute, London, in Museum Education before completing her masters at the Royal College of Art, London. She returned to teach at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in 1997, becoming Professor of Ceramics in 2000 and inaugurated as a Professor Emerita in 2016 in recognition of her contribution to the University's research culture. Magdalene is now the Chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts.

In 2019 the Hepworth Wakefield hosted Magdalene Odundo: The Journey of Things.  An exhibition that, for the first time, explored the inextricable link between the prodigious array of objects Odundo has studied over half a century and the formation of her own singular vocabulary.  Remaining faithful to the vessel form throughout her career, Odundo’s achievements have, for the greater part, been considered and appreciated within the context of twentieth-century British studio pottery.  Odundo was, and remains, one of the greatest voices to emerge during the flourishing of British studio ceramics in the 1980’s; within that narrative, her work contributed to a reshaping and enriching of its expressions and discourses.  Yet her work also sits apart, its complex organic qualities finding more illuminating affinities with modernist sculpture than utilitarian ceramic traditions.  Made in Britain but shaped by a global outlook, Odundo’s work pushes against any attempts to define it geographically, preferring instead to speak in a language that transcends time and place.

Magdalene's work is included in the permanent collections of international museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, The British Museum in London, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York and the National Museum of African Art in Washington DC.  

She has also received honorary doctorates from the University of Florida (2014) and University of the Arts London (2016). In 2008 she was awarded an OBE for services to the Arts and Art Education and was made a Dame in the 2020 New Years Honours.