Chris Ofili: The Caged Bird’s Song

I’ve always aimed to steer away from the “mainstream” galleries but I couldn’t escape this one. My partner had heard Chris Ofili’s work was to be displayed at The National Gallery and made it an importance to go view it; I am absolutely thrilled that He did. Having never heard of this incredibly talented artist, the “weaving magic” project was the perfect introduction for me to his work as the title echoes the work of a writer I admire, Maya Angelou, by naming it “The Caged Bird’s Song” after her autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

Chris Ofili1

Chris Ofili, a British born artist of Nigerian origin who currently resides in Trinidad, has had his beautiful paintings displayed internationally and is a British Turner Prize winner. His paintings often include vibrant pigmented colours and is popularly known to use elephant dung. A quick google search of his work tells me how his blackness is of importance to him and he showcases it through his painting. So it’s unsurprising that he takes influence from a magnificent writer and black activist like Maya. The difference in this project, however, was that his painting was to be turned into tapestry by talented weavers at the Dovecot Studios which required incredible attention to detail as everything is hand-woven (hence weaving magic), getting threads that mirrored the pigmented colours Ofili uses and a surplus amount of patience. “How were the weavers going to manage to turn wool into water?”, was a question that played on Ofili’s mind.

The process

Upon entry into the exhibition, you see the evolution of Ofili’s work, where and how it took form and the finalisation of the painting. This final painting was provided to the weavers to capture as a challenge to see if they would be able to execute the colours used. A challenge readily accepted, the weavers at Dovecot Studios spent two and a half years on this project which resulted in one of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve been fortunate enough of seeing up close and capturing.


The masterpiece

What you see above is the work of five amazingly talented weavers, who poured love and attention into blowing up Ofili’s painting into a stunning 7 metres wide and 3 metres tall wall-hanging. In the background of the masterpiece, were scenic paintings of women dancing around the walls. With the grey on grey painting used and an added glistening whiteness of the jewelleries, it makes way for the blow-up of colours in Ofili’s work that capture your attention.

A perfectly executed task that wowed Ofili and myself, the weavers managed to encapsulate the essence in the woman standing at the beginning draped in a blue-green piece; they caught the beauty in the turquoise colour used by Ofili by mixing two different thread colours and reproduced, beautifully, the water flowing behind the two seated in the middle, an initial concern of Ofili’s. Located in the middle section again are streams of water falling behind, what I assume is a man playing the guitar, in an attempt to possibly serenade the woman laid next to him. With this terrific tropical setting, I suspect that Ofili has clearly been influenced by Trinidad as it’s safe to assume this isn’t something we’re likely to see here in the UK. UK weather and all.

Right at the end of this piece we have a man, looking somewhat angelic, holding the caged bird which brings us back to the title of the triptych “The Caged Bird’s Song”. This exhibition is free to view at the National Gallery and is open till the 28th of August 2017. A short exhibition film is shown in the gallery but BBC iplayer have a full documented journey in making this piece – click here to watch. I encourage you to go down there and see this wonder for yourself.

National Gallery: Address: Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN


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