Chris Ofili

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Christopher Ofili
Born (1968-10-10) 10 October 1968 (age 45)
Manchester, England
Education Chelsea School of Art
Royal College of Art
Known for Painting
Notable work(s) No Woman No Cry (1998),
Captain s**t and the Legend of the Black Stars (1998),
The Upper Room (2002)
Awards 1998 Turner Prize

Christopher Ofili, known as Chris Ofili (born 10 October 1968), is an English Turner Prize-winning painter who is best known for his paintings incorporating elephant dung. He was one of the Young British Artists. Since 2005, Ofili has been living and working in Trinidad, where he currently resides in Port of Spain.

Early life[edit]

Ofili was for some years educated at St. Pius X High School for Boys, and then at Xaverian College in Victoria Park, Manchester.[1] Ofili completed a foundation course in art at Tameside College in Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester and then studied in London, at the Chelsea School of Art from 1988 to 1991 and at the Royal College of Art from 1991 to 1993.


Ofili was established through exhibitions by Charles Saatchi at his gallery in north London and the travelling exhibition Sensation (1997), becoming recognised as one of the few British artists of African / Caribbean descent to break through as a member of the Young British Artists group. Ofili has also had numerous solo shows since the early 1990s, including at the Serpentine Gallery. In 1998, Ofili won the Turner Prize, and in 2003 he was selected to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale of that year, where his work for the British Pavilion was done in collaboration with the architect David Adjaye.

In 1992 he won a scholarship that allowed him to travel to Zimbabwe. Ofili studied cave paintings there, which had some effect on his style. Though Ofili's detractors often state that he "splatters"[2] elephant dung on his pictures, this is inaccurate: he sometimes applies it directly to the canvas in the form of dried spherical lumps, and sometimes, in the same form, uses it as varnished foot-like supports on which the paintings stand.

Ofili's paintings also make reference to blaxploitation films and gangsta rap, seeking to question racial and sexual stereotypes in a humorous way. His work is often built up in layers of paint, resin, glitter, dung (mainly elephant) and other materials to create a collage.

Ofili has been founder and prime mover behind the short-lived Freeness Project.[3] This project involved the coming together of artists, producers and musicians of minority ethnic groups (Asian and African) in an attempt to expose the music that may be unheard in other spaces. Freeness allowed the creativity of unsigned contemporary British ethnic minority artists to be heard. The result of months of tours to 10 cities in the UK resulted in Freeness Volume 1 - a compilation of works that were shown during the tour.

Ofili is represented by Victoria Miro Gallery, London, David Zwirner, New York, and Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin.

After he studied he went to Trinidad where he lives now with his wife Roba, former singer with trip-hop band Attica Blues.[4]


Ofili's work was featured in a museum in the 1995 exhibition Brilliant! New Art from London at the Walker Art Center.[5] Significant solo exhibitions include the Arts Club of Chicago (2010), Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2006), the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2005), and the Serpentine Gallery, London (1998). In 2010, Tate Britain presented the most extensive exhibition of his work to date.[6]


The Holy Virgin Mary and Mayor Giuliani[edit]

One of his paintings, The Holy Virgin Mary, a depiction of the Virgin Mary, was at issue in a lawsuit between the mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art when it was exhibited there in 1999 as a part of the "Sensation" exhibit. The painting depicted a Black Madonna surrounded by images from blaxploitation movies and close-ups of female genitalia cut from pornographic magazines, and elephant dung. These were formed into shapes reminiscent of the cherubim and seraphim commonly depicted in images of the Immaculate conception and the Assumption of Mary. Following the scandal surrounding this painting, Bernard Goldberg ranked Ofili No. 86 in 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. Red Grooms showed his support of the artist by purchasing one of Ofili's paintings in 1999, even after Giuliani famously exclaimed, "There’s nothing in the First Amendment that supports horrible and disgusting projects!”[7] The painting is now owned by David Walsh and is on display at the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania.[8]

The Upper Room and the Tate Gallery[edit]

The Upper Room is an installation of 13 paintings of rhesus macaque monkeys by Ofili in a specially designed room. It was bought by the Tate Gallery in 2005 and caused controversy as Ofili was on the board of the Tate Trustees at the time of the purchase. In 2006 the Charity Commission censured the Tate for this purchase.


  1. ^ Chris Ofili Brief biography on ham. Retrieval Date: 26 July 2007.
  2. ^ The Independent, February 27, 2000
  3. ^ Free stuff by James Cowdery, 22 September 2005.
  4. ^ "AN INTERVIEW WITH CHARLIE DARK OF ATTICA BLUES". Mo Wax Please. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  5. ^ Chris Ofili, Third Eye Vision (1999) Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
  6. ^ Adrian Searle (25 January 2010), Chris Ofili heads into the shadows The Guardian.
  7. ^ Robert Ayers (20 November 2007), Red Grooms’s Chris Ofili Drawing, ARTINFO, retrieved 17 April 2008 
  8. ^ Gabriella Coslovich (14 April 2007), The Collector, The Age, retrieved 24 December 2010 

External links[edit]