You are in Artists > Chris Ofili
Place(s) of work: London (gb) ; Port-au-Prince (tt)
A British artist of Nigerian descent, Chris Ofili is a painter and sculptor whose colorful, lavishly produced works explore the black experience through a diverse range of cultural lenses, from ancient African tradition to hip-hop culture, blaxploitation, and pop cliché. An early member of the Young British Artist movement, Ofili often challenges his audience's interpretation of ingrained black stereotypes--a strategy that has sometimes sparked controversy, most famously over his piece in the 1999 "Sensation" exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.
Born in Manchester, England, Ofili studied art at the Hochschule der Kunst in Berlin and the Royal College of Art in London, where he began experimenting with incorporating dried elephant dung--an African symbol of fertility--into collaged canvases inspired by both primal cave paintings from Zimbabwe and pop culture sources. The dung, originally smuggled from Africa and later obtained from the London Zoo, became a signature element of Ofili's work in the 1990s and was reputedly incorporated in all of his paintings from 1992 through 1998. A representative 1996 piece, Afrodizzia, addressed the stereotype of black sexual potency by collaging magazine clippings of afro-adorned heads with resin-covered lumps of dung, with two more balls of dung acting as sculptural props for the painting.
In 1998, Ofili was awarded the Turner Prize, becoming the first painter to win Britain's most prestigious art award since 1985. As much as the prize did to advance the artist's reputation, it was nothing compared to the controversy caused by his 1999 painting, The Holy Virgin Mary. Exhibited in the "Sensation" show that toured from London's Tate to the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the portrait showed a black Madonna with a ball of elephant dung forming her exposed breast and pornographic magazine clippings of female genitalia flocking the Virgin as stand-ins for the angelic cherubim traditionally found in religious icons. While British audiences had paid the work little notice, directing their ire instead at a portrait of child killer Myra Hindley by Marcus Harvey, Ofili's painting sparked an enormous controversy in New York led by the city's then-mayor, Rudy Giuliani, who withdrew the public institution's funding and threatened to shut it down entirely. In 1999 a judge ruled Giuliani's actions to be unconstitutional; by that time an enraged museum-goer had vandalized Ofili's work with white paint, causing the Virgin to be displayed behind a glexiglass shield, protected by an armed guard.
Since "Sensation," Ofili has become one of Britain's most prominent painters, sitting on the board of the Tate and having his work in the museum's permanent collection (an ostensible conflict of interest that caused another controversy), as well as that of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In recent years, Ofili has largely abandoned dung as a material, instead branching out to create a diverse range of works including bronze sculptures, watercolors, and graphite drawings.
Watch a video in which Ofili describes his 2002 piece, The Upper Room, depicting the last supper:(read less)
Emerging Markets: Young British Artists
Inspirations & Key Themes: African Art, black stereotypes, Elephant dung, hip hop culture, pornography, Race
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