Chris Ofili was inspired to create his Grenfell Fresco ‘Requiem’ by a chance meeting at the 2017 Venice Biennale, where he was introduced to the 24-year-old artist Khadija Saye, who later died in the tragedy along with seventy-two other people.
Ofili told the Guardian, “She had this really radiant presence”. “There was an undeniably genuine, honest presence about her. And I said yeah, I want to meet her. We did a brief selfie and maybe exchanged a few words. But it was enough to realise, ‘That’s a good person there, and I hope she makes outstanding art because that combination can be quite special.’
At the time of the ongoing incident, Saye didn’t have a mobile phone; the police had taken it during a wrongful arrest so she used Facebook to get advice as she attempted to escape the inferno.
Saye is the focal point of this new mural, and a depiction of her face floats in the centre of the artwork. ‘Requiem’ is located on the middle wall of Tate Britain’s northern staircase. It is painted in tones of yellow and orange. Other victims are also present. It is open from today.
The mural has been designed in three parts. Chapter One: (Look. Look at this. Look at what we’ve done. Look at what is happening) depicts a figure depicting a prophet holding the burning tower block.
Chapter two (Change and transformation) shows the artist Saye, holding a Gambian incense pot to her ear. Chapter three (A place for redemption, healing and hope) depicts mythical beings in paradise.
The work will be on display for ten years. The unveiling has been very low keyed in respect to the lives that were lost in the fire.
Further work in response to Grenfell has emerged in the last few months. Steve McQueen’s film and Gillian Slovo’s play at the National Theatre have addressed the tragedy in varying forms of expression.
Chris Ofili is a British contemporary artist known for his distinctive and often controversial works of art. Born in 1968, in Manchester, England of Nigerian heritage, Ofili rose to prominence in the 1990s as part of the Young British Artists (YBA) movement, which included artists like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. He is closely associated with the artist Peter Doig and both have homes in Trinidad. His work spans various mediums, including painting, drawing, collage, and sculpture, and often explores themes related to identity, race, sexuality, and religion.
Elephant Dung and Glitter: Ofili gained international attention by using unconventional materials in his artwork. One of his most famous series, the “Afrobluff” series, featured paintings incorporating elephant dung as a medium. He used this material for its visual and textural qualities and as a commentary on his African heritage. He often combined it with other materials like glitter, resin, and beads.
Exploration of Identity: Much of Ofili’s work explores themes of identity, both personal and cultural. Being of Nigerian descent, his art often delves into African and Afro-Caribbean heritage and broader discussions of race, ethnicity, and diaspora. His use of imagery, symbols, and vibrant colours reflects these themes.
“The Holy Virgin Mary” Controversy: One of the most famous and controversial works by Chris Ofili is “The Holy Virgin Mary” (1996), which featured a black Madonna adorned with elephant dung and pornographic imagery. This artwork was part of the “Sensation” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999 and sparked a considerable debate about freedom of expression, religious sensitivity, and art. It even led to political protests and discussions about public funding for the arts.
Turner Prize Winner : In 1998, Chris Ofili was awarded the Turner Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in British contemporary art. His win further solidified his status as a prominent artist within the YBA movement.
Ongoing Career: Beyond the controversies surrounding some of his earlier works, Ofili has continued to produce art that explores various themes, including mythology, cultural hybridity, and history. He has exhibited his work internationally and has had solo exhibitions in major art institutions. He shows with the Victoria Miro Gallery in London and Venice.
Influence and Legacy: Chris Ofili’s bold and unconventional approach to materials and subject matter has impacted contemporary art. His exploration of identity and his willingness to confront controversial topics through his art has inspired many artists to continue pushing boundaries in their work.
Chris Ofili’s work is characterised by its richness of colour, texture, and symbolism. He remains an influential figure in contemporary art, known for his ability to challenge and engage viewers through his thought-provoking and visually striking creations.
Top Photo: ‘Beyond words’ … Chris Ofili’s Requiem, installed on the walls of Tate Britain’s north staircase. Photograph: Thierry Bal/© Chris Ofili. Courtesy the artist