Chris Ofili (born 1968) is an English born painter noted for artworks referencing aspects of his Nigerian heritage. He is one of the Young British Artists. He is a Turner Prize winner and his work has been a source of controversy.
Ofili was born in Manchester in 1968. He completed a foundation in art at Tameside College in Ashton-under-Lyne and studied art 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 breakthrough as a member of the Young British Artists. Ofili has also had numerous solo shows since the early 1990s including 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.
He is represented by the Victoria Miro Gallery and David Zwirner, New York.
In 1992 he won a scholarship which allowed him to travel to Zimbabwe. Ofili, who is of Nigerian descent, studied cave paintings there which had some effect on his style. Though Ofili's detractors often state that he "splatters" elephant dung (a substance which is used in a variety of rituals in Africa) 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 foot-like supports on which the paintings stand.
Ofili's painting also references blaxploitation films and gangsta rap often to question racial and sexual stereotypes in a humorous way. His work is often built up in layers of paint, resin, glitter, dung and other materials to create a collage.
Ofili has also been the brains behind the 'Freeness' Project. This involved the coming together of artists, producers and musicians of minority ethnic groups (black, Asian, African and Chinese) in an attempt to expose the music that may be unheard in other spaces. Freeness allowed the creativity of today's British ethnic minority artists to be heard. The result of months of tours to 10 major cities in the UK resulted in Freeness Volume 1 - a compilation of varied works that were exposed during the tour.
Controversy - The Holy Virgin Mary and Mayor Giuliani
One of his paintings, The Holy Virgin Mary, a depiction (portrait) 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 African Mary 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 #86 in 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.