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Thu, 10.10.1968

Christopher Ofili, Artist born

Christopher Ofili

*Christopher Ofili was born on this date in 1968. He is a Black British artist (painter).

Ofili was born to May and Michael Ofili in Manchester, the UK. When he was eleven, his father left the family and returned to Nigeria. Ofili was educated at St. Pius X High School for Boys and then at Xaverian College and Tameside College, both in Greater Manchester.  He then studied at the Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College of Art from 1991 to 1993. In the autumn of 1992, he got a one-year exchange scholarship to Universität der Künste Berlin. 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.

Ofili was established through the traveling exhibition Sensation (1997), becoming recognized as one of the few British artists of African / Caribbean descent to break through as a Young British Artists group member. 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.

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. 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.

Ofili visited Trinidad for the first time in 2000 and permanently moved to Trinidad in 2005. In 2002, he married Roba El-Essawy, a former trip-hop band Attica Blues singer. They divorced in 2019. He maintains a studio in Port of Spain, Trinidad. His early work was heavily influenced by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Georg Baselitz, Philip Guston, and George Condo.  In 2014, art critic Roberta Smith held that Ofili has much in common with painters like Bob ThompsonBeauford Delaney, and William H. Johnson.

Ofili was the founder and prime mover behind the short-lived Freeness Project. This project involved the coming together of artists, producers, and musicians of minority ethnic groups (Asian and African) to expose the unheard-of music in other spaces. Freeness allowed the creativity of unsigned contemporary British ethnic minority artists to be heard. The tours to 10 cities resulted in Freeness Volume 1 – a compilation of works shown during the tour.

Since 2005, Ofili has lived and worked in Trinidad and Tobago, where he currently resides in Port of Spain. He also lives and works in London and Brooklyn. Ofili has utilized resin, beads, oil paint, glitter, lumps of elephant dung, and cut-outs from porn magazines as painting elements. His work has been classified as "punk art." After relocating to Trinidad in 2005, Ofili began a series of blue paintings inspired by the Jab Jab or "blue devils" who participated in the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival and the Expressionist group of German and Russian artists, Der Blaue Reiter.  

These paintings often used silver acrylic backgrounds with layers of dark oil pigment. Later iterations of these works were shown at Ofili's solo show Chris Ofili: Day and Night, at The New Museum of New York, installed in a dimly lit room, causing viewers to adjust their eyes to the darkness to see the paintings. Ofili was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2017 New Year Honors for art services. Ofili was included in the 2019 edition of the Powerlist, ranking the 100 most influential Black Britons.

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