Chris Ofili /   Christopher Ofili

United Kingdom 1968

Installation, Young British Artists, Painting

Chris Ofili
Christopher Ofili
United Kingdom
August 27, 2016
Music, Gestalt, .

Christopher Ofili, known as Chris Ofili, is an English Turner Prize-winning painter and a member of Young British Artists movement. His works are recognizable for their vibrant palette and a variety of applied textures, such as glitter, magazine cut-outs, resin and even elephant dung. When it comes to the main topic of Ofili’s work, it is the exploration of both contemporary and historical black experience through challenging racial stereotypes.[1] Because of his use of elephant dung in paintings, the well-known controversy has arisen over the Ofili’s work entitled The Holy Virgin Mary.

prize turner royal paint college 2010 night tate 1998 chris art new museum black works artist gallery exhibition york paint
Chris Ofili – Shithead, 1993 – image via

Ofili and His Artworks Questioning New Stereotypes

Chris Ofili was born in Manchester, Great Britain but his family is originally from Nigeria. The artist has attended St. Pius X High School for Boys and later studied in London, at the Chelsea School of Art and at the prestigious Royal College. In 1992, he got a one-year exchange scholarship to Universität der Künste Berlin and also additional scholarship that allowed him to travel to Zimbabwe. It is important to mention that Ofili showed a keen interest in African cave paintings there, which had a certain effect on his style. His artworks often make references to blaxploitation films and gangsta rap, questioning racial and sexual stereotypes in a clever and humorous way. For instance, in a series of faces that Ofili called Harems, each work consists of one man with as many as four women around him.

Ofili’s work typically consists of layers of paint, resin, glitter, dung and other materials suitable for collage. His early paintings were heavily influenced by artists such as the legendary Jean-Michel Basquiat, Georg Baselitz, Philip Guston, and George Condo. Chris Ofili has also been the founder of the short-lived Freeness Project, which involved the gathering of artists, producers, and musicians of minority ethnic groups, like Asian and African. The goal was to expose and give voice to the creativity of lesser known contemporary British ethnic minority artists. Ofili himself became established through exhibitions by Charles Saatchi at his gallery in north London and through the traveling exhibition from 1997, called Sensation.

Ofili’s work often makes references to black films, culture and new gangsta rap, questioning racial and sexual stereotypes

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Chris Ofili – Paradise by Night, 2010 – Courtesy of Manifold Editions

The Holy Virgin Mary Controversy in the Brooklyn Museum

One of Ofili’s most famous paintings called The Holy Virgin Mary, initiated a lawsuit between the mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The controversial artwork was exhibited in 1999, as a part of the Sensation traveling exhibit. This painting represents a Black Madonna surrounded by small images from blaxploitation movies and close-ups of female private parts from pornographic media and magazines. There are also lumps of elephant dung which look like the cherubim and seraphim found in the imagery related to the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary. Ofili’s so-called scandalous painting was ranked No.86 in 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.[2] However, not everyone was against Ofili – Red Grooms showed his support and open-mindedness by purchasing one of Ofili’s artworks in 1999. The Holy Virgin Mary was eventually bought by a collector and it is now on display at the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania. Despite this incident, Chris Ofili became renown as one of the few artists of African descent from the Great Britain who got recognized as a member of the Young British Artists. His work can be found in the important permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; the Saatchi Collection, London; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others. The artist has moved to the island of Trinidad in 2005, where he still resides and works.

The controversial artwork The Holy Virgin Mary was exhibited in 1999, as a part of the Sensation, a popular traveling exhibition and a triumph of Ofili’s career

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Chris Ofili – The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996 – image via (Left) / No Woman No Cry, 1998 (Right) – image via

Mixing Sacral Ideas with Black History

By using various references from African music, culture, religion and textiles, Chris Ofili became the master of experimenting with unconventional techniques, materials and subject matter. His vibrant, technically complex and meticulously executed collage works were awarded Turner Prize in 1998 because of their boldness, audacity, and innovative nature. Through his intricate and highly original paintings, Ofili explores widely diverse and historically important themes, such as sacred ideals, identity issues, black history, high and low culture as well as universal self-awareness.

The artist is represented by D. Zwirner London, D. Zwirner 19th Street and D. Zwirner 20th Street.

Chris Ofili lives and works in Trinidad.


    1. Vogel, Carol (2005) Chris Ofili’s Watercolors, New York Times [August 28, 2016]
    2. Benett, Will (2002) Elephant Dung Artist Gives a Little Back, The Telegraph [August 28, 2016]

Featured image: Chris Ofili’s Portrait – image via

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Summer ChoicesCrown Point Press, San Francisco, CASolo
2015Young Collectors - Prints Signed and UnsignedArt Wise, Brooklyn, NYGroup
2012To take and to give Victoria Miro Gallery, London, UK Solo
2012The Master Printer and the Collaborative Process International Print Center New York, New York City, NYGroup
2012Œuvres de la collection Battat Contemporary, Montreal, QC, CanadaGroup
2012La Triennale 2012 Intense Proximity Palais de Tokyo, Paris, FranceGroup
2011The Strawberry Thief FAS Contemporary, London, UKGroup
2011Art² FLAG Art Foundation, New York City, NY, USAGroup
2011Beyond The Human Clay James Hyman Fine Art, London, UKGroup
2011El intervalo luminoso: The D.Daskalopoulos Collection Museo Guggenheim de Arte Moderno y Contemporáneo, Bilbao, SpainGroup
2011LITOS GRAFERA Kunst Centret Silkeborg Bad, Silkeborg, DenmarkGroup
2010Chris Ofili: Afrotranslinear Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA Solo
2010Chris Ofili Tate Britain, London, UK Solo
201021st Century: Art in the First Decade Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, QLD, AustraliaGroup
2010James Ensor, Hareng Saur: Ensor et l'art contemporain SMAK Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Gent, BelgiumGroup
2010Happy End Kunsthalle Göppingen, Göppingen, GermanyGroup
2010Thrice upon a time Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, Stockholm, SwedenGroup
2010Modern Master Works Scream London, London, UKGroup
2010Kupferstichkabinett: Between Thought and Action White Cube, Hoxton Square, London, UKGroup
2010In the Company of AliceVictoria Miro Gallery, London, UKGroup
2010Tudo o que é sólido dissolve-se no ar: o social na Colecção Berardo Berardo Museum, Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art, LisbonGroup
2010Alpha Omega Deste Foundation, Centre for Contemporary Art, Athens, GreeceGroup
2010PAPYROPHILIA Charlie Smith London, London, UKGroup
2010Self-Consciousness VW (VeneKlasen-Werner), Berlin, GermanyGroup
2010Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York City, NY, USAGroup
2010Party! The New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall, West Midlands, UKGroup
2009Afro Margin David Zwirner, New York, NY, USA Solo
200930 Seconds off an Inch The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City, NY, USAGroup
2009Work on Paper Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Wolverhampton, UKGroup
2009FLOWER POWER Craa Centro di ricerca arte attuale Villa Giulia, VerbaniaGroup
2009Remain in Light W139, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsGroup
2008…same as it ever was: Painting at Chelsea 1990-2007 The Arts Gallery, University of the Arts London Solo
2007Hunky Dory Tatinsian Gallery, Moscow, RussiaGroup
2007Draw mima, Middlesbrough, UKGroup
2007Devil’s Pie David Zwirner, New York, NY, USA Solo
2006The Blue Rider Extended Remix Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover, Germany Solo
2006How To Improve The World: 60 Years of British Art Hayward Gallery, London, UKGroup
2006Surprise Surprise ICA, London, UKGroup
2006Prints Now Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UKGroup
2006Infinite Painting Villa Manin Centro d’Arte Contemporanea, Codroipo, ItalyGroup
2006The Compulsive Line: Etching 1900 to Now MoMA, New York, NY, USAGroup
2006California Print Show Paulson Press, Berkeley, CAGroup
2006New Prints 2006-WinterInternational Print Center, New York, NYGroup
2005The Upper Room Tate Britain, London, UK Solo
2005The Blue RiderContemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, Germany Solo
2005Afro Muses The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY, USA Solo
2005After Cezanne Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, USAGroup
2005Revelations: Reflecting British Art in the Arts Council Collection Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, UKGroup
2005Baroque and Neobaroque Domus Atrium 2002, Salamanca, SpainGroup
2005Drawing from the Modern: 1975–2005 MoMA, New York, NY, USAGroup
2005Early Work David Zwirner, New York, NY, USAGroup
2005TranslationPalais de Tokyo, Paris, FranceGroup
2005Getting Emotional ICA, Boston, MA, USAGroup
2005Contemporary Erotic Drawing Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT, USAGroup
2005Artists & Prints: Masterworks from the Museum Modern Art, MoMA, NY, USAGroup
2005Writing Letters: Tauba Auerbach, Joe Amrhein, Steve Powers Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2005Signs of the Real and Infinite Tauba Auerbach and Nico Dios, New Image Art Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
20054 Squared Motel, Portland, ORGroup
2005December BenefitJack Hanley Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2005Dreamland Artistʼs Club Coney Island, New York, NYGroup
2004Faces in the Crowd, Picturing Modern Life from Manet to Today Castello di Rivoli, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Torino, Italy and Whitechapel Gallery, London, UKGroup
2004Huts The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, IrelandGroup
2004Monument to Now The Dakis Joannou Collection DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, Athens, GreeceGroup
2004Seeds & Roots: Selections from the Permanent Collection The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY, USAGroup
2004Fabulism Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE, USAGroup
2004 The San Francisco Show New Image Art Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2004Hot and Cold #7 Mama Buzz Gallery, Berkeley, CAGroup
2004More Often than Not Needles and Pens, San Francisco, CAGroup
2004In the Street Luggage Store Street Theater Festival, San Francisco, CAGroup
2004The Primary Pleasures of Eating, or Drinking, or Looking, or Sex Adobe Books, San Francisco, CAGroup
2004Whatʼs In a Book? New Langton Arts, San Francisco, CAGroup
2003Within Reach British Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy Solo
2003The Dead Bird Show Whitechapel Project Space, London, UKGroup
2003Supernova SFMoMa, San Francisco, CA, USAGroup
2003Happiness: A Survival Guide for Art and Life Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, JapanGroup
2003Paradise National Gallery, London, UK; Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, UK; City Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol, UKGroup
2002Freedom One Day Victoria Miro Gallery, London, UK Solo
2002Drawing now: eight propositions MoMA, New York, NY, USAGroup
2002CavepaintingSanta Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA, USAGroup
2002One Planet Under A Groove:Hip Hop and Contemporary Art Bronx Museum of the Arts New York, NY, USA; Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, MN, USA; Spelman Museum of 2002 Fine Art Atlanta, GA, USAGroup
2002 No War Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2001Chris Ofili Watercolours Gallery Side 2, Japan Solo
2001Form Follows Fiction, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Torino, ItalyGroup
2001Public Offerings Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, USAGroup
2001Works on Paper: from Acconci to Zittel Victoria Miro Gallery, London, UKGroup
2001Painting at the Edge of the World Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, USAGroup
2001 ING: Ben Prince, Will Yackulic, Tauba Auerbach Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2000Sydney Biennale Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, AustraliaGroup
2000Chris Ofili Drawings Victoria Miro Gallery, London, UK Solo
1999Afrobiotics Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York, NY, USA Solo
1999Carnegie International Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA, USAGroup
19996th International Istanbul Biennial Istanbul, TurkeyGroup
1999Trouble Spot Painting NICC and MUHKA, Antwerp, BelgiumGroup
1998The Turner Prize Tate Gallery, London, EnglandGroup
1998Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany; Group
1998Chris Ofili Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, UK Solo
1998Chris Ofili, Serpentine Gallery, London, UK; Southampton City Art Gallery, Southampton, UK Solo
1997Pimpin Ain’t Easy But It Sure Is Fun Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, Germany Solo
1997Pictura Britannica Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, AustraliaGroup
1996Mothership Connection Stedelijk Museum Bureau, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsGroup
1996Afrodizzia Victoria Miro Gallery, London, UK Solo
1995Chris Ofili Gavin Brown’s Enterprise New York, NY, USA Solo
1995Brilliant! New Art from London Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, USAGroup