“The Holy Virgin Mother Mary,”by Chris Ofili, is one of the many controversial pieces of artwork to rise to fame in the late nineties. Taken as highly offense to the religious community due to the portraits exposed breast, hints of pornographic material,elephant dung and seemingly downgrading use of the sacred image of “Mother Mary”. Due to Ofili’s “inappropriate” interpretation of real art, he received countless criticisms about his work including threats and vandalism against “The Holy Virgin Mother Mary”. The portrait has a 2D shape,very flat with little to no depth.
My eye is drawn directly to the blue rosebud in the center of the portrait,which turns out to be the breast of the “Holy Virgin Mary”,after reading a little into the background of this portrait. Multiple round putty-like splatters are spread out around the painting. If you look closely you can determine that these are pornographic cutouts pasted all along and around the painting. The foreground of the painting tends to blend with the background and the only thing separating the Virgin Mary from the bright yellows and oranges is a soft thin line.
The Holy Virgin Mary” depicts a woman of African descent and clothed in turquoise blue robes in a similar manner as mother Mary. Small round objects float about the painting in a random and unorganized manner,which represents an ironic reference to the putti that appear in traditional religious art. “The Holy Virgin Mother Mary” sit centers around a yellow and orange background. Ofili started using dried-out elephant dung for the first time after a visit to Zimbabwe in 1992, his first ever trip to Africa. He was so taken by this experience that he wanted to import something of the African landscape into his paintings.
In order to compensate for the foul nature of the dung, however, he took special care to make the overall effect of his paintings especially attractive. He did so by making richly-layered decorative surfaces. Ofili employed mixed media, including oil paint, glitter, and polyester resin,and collaged pornographic images in this painting, incorporating colored dots, sparkling glitter, polyester resin, map pins, collage cut-outs, all carefully combined into a dazzling display of vibrant folksy energy.
A lump of dried, varnished elephant dung orms one bared breast, and the painting is displayed leaning against the gallery wall, supported by two other lumps of elephant dung, decorated with colored pins. The pins on the left are arranged to spell out “Virgin” and the one on the right “Mary”. (BBC News) In an interview, the British artist Chris Ofili discusses his work. He asserts that his paintings are part of hip-hop culture, and states that his work operates on multiple levels and is open to interpretation. He explains his intention of transforming everyday junk and aspects of contemporary culture into thought-provoking images, noting the importance of his identity as a Londoner.
He discusses his techniques and current projects, and explains the importance of music, drawing parallels between his concerns and those of contemporary hip-hop and soul artists. He considers his painting The Holy Virgin Mary with reference to issues including the stereotyping of black women, the paradox of the virgin mother, and notions of beauty and caricature, and concludes by asserting that art can be constructed from anything and should be unrestricted by cultural norms(Miller, Paul D).
It is perhaps Mary’s role as virgin and mother that best captures the paradoxical character of her identity and her imagery. Mary has often been cast as the counterpoint to Eve,as the agent of sin and death versus woman as vehicle of redemption. Yet, remember, Mary also bore a son. In one fourteenth-century book, the Annunciation scene is surrounded by cats, rabbits, monkeys, and flirtatious girls and boys to contrast the Virgin’s chastity with worldly carnality and simultaneously to offer a message of fertility(College Street Journal).
I think that Ofili’s imagery must be seen against this,contradictory visual history and in terms of the personal and universal that has underlain much of art connected with the Virgin. Ofili depicts her features and uses elephant dung to connect her in a basic way to the African earth and its people. To depict the “The Holy Virgin Mary” as a beautiful piece of art, is a bit of a stretch for me. It is a unique work of art that expresses the artists views on certain religious phenomena and worldly stereotypes.
Courtney from Study Moose
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