Chris Ofili is an Artist known for his controversial use of Elephant dung in his work. He is also a former winner of the Turner Prize.
Ofili was born in Manchester in 1968. He studied fine art at the Chelsea School of Art and completed a master’s degree in painting at the Royal College of Art in 1993.
His first solo exhibition was in London in 1991; he has shown in group exhibitions in Manchester, London, Basel, Zimbabwe, Rochdale, Berlin, Tokyo, Glasgow, New York and Hamburg, and in Brilliant; New Art from London at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, in 1995.
The Holy Virgin Mary, his 1996 painting of a black Madonna with a clump of elephant dung on one breast and cutouts of genitalia from pornographic magazines in the background caused quite a stir.
It all seems very distant and confusing to me, Ofili said. It’s like a play, and somehow I got mentioned in the script. I think there’s some bigger agenda here.
When Mayor of New York Rudolph W. Giuliani threatened to cut off the museum’s city subsidy and remove its board if the show which contained Ofilis work, was not canceled, he singled out the Holy Virgin Mary, along with several other works, as sick stuff.
<p>Cardinal John O’Connor called the show an attack on religion itself. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said it found Ofili’s painting offensive, too. After seeing a photograph of The Holy Virgin Mary in the exhibition’s catalogue, the league’s president, William A. Donohue, issued a statement saying people should picket the museum.
Ofili said in a telephone interview:
I don’t feel as though I have to defend it. The people who are attacking this painting are attacking their own interpretation, not mine. You never know what’s going to offend people, and I don’t feel it’s my place to say any more.
In interviews since he won the Turner Prize for young British artists , Ofili spoke broadly about his unconventional approach to art, including his use of elephant dung and his Roman Catholic upbringing.
The British-born artist talked about his African heritage, which led him to visit Zimbabwe, where he was disturbed by the remnants of colonialism he encountered and was moved by the beauty of the land and its wildlife, he said.
This isn’t the first time that Ofili, 31, has found himself in the center of a hailstorm. After he won the Turner Prize, the $32,000 award given annually by the Tate Gallery of Art in London, several London critics denounced the choice as gimmicky and dubbed Ofili the Elephant Man.
He said that this time he felt besieged by the public outcry because he and his work had been singled out.
Ofili, who has a master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in London, is widely known in the art world, and his work is in the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Gallery in London and the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.
Elephant dung, which has become something of a signature in Ofili’s paintings, is in large part a cultural reference to his African heritage.He describes himself as a churchgoing Catholic, although he does not attend every Sunday. Ofili went to state schools in Manchester and became interested in furniture design before gravitating to art.
When he was 24 he decided to learn more about his roots. He won a scholarship to travel and paint for eight weeks in Zimbabwe. His use of elephant dung, which he gets from the London Zoo, is in many ways a reaction to what he saw and felt in Africa.
- Victoria Miro – Chris Ofili