Chris Ofili. The Holy Virgin Mary. 1996

Chris Ofili The Holy Virgin Mary 1996

Depicted on a lush, glittering ground of shimmering orange resin that recalls the gold leaf of religious icons, Ofili’s Virgin appears resplendent, majestic, and imperious, yet also suffused with sexual potency. Close inspection reveals the delicate, fluttering cherubim surrounding her to be crafted from images of women’s buttocks clipped from pornographic magazines; in place of her bared breast, a lump of elephant dung sits on the canvas, protruding into the viewer’s space. A material often used by traditional African artists, elephant dung has been incorporated into works by a number of contemporary African-diaspora artists to evoke their cultural heritage. Ofili began to use dung in his work following a visit to Africa to explore his roots. “There's something incredibly simple but incredibly basic about it,” Ofili told The New York Times in 1999. “It attracts a multiple of meanings and interpretations.”

Ofili frames his Madonna as proud, black, and sexual. Yet the introduction of an erotic charge within the Virgin’s sacred image is far from new. As Ofili once stated, “When I go to the National Gallery and see paintings of the Virgin Mary, I see how sexually charged they are. Mine is simply a hip-hop version.” In 1999, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani attempted to block the painting from being shown at the Brooklyn Museum, threatening to cut off funding for the museum, but the museum refused to withdraw the painting and won the court case.

Additional text from Ann Temkin, The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture
Medium
Acrylic, oil, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins and elephant dung on canvas
Dimensions
99 3/4 × 71 3/4" (253.4 × 182.2 cm)
Credit
Gift of Steven and Alexandra Cohen
Object number
211.2018.a-c
Department
Painting and Sculpture

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at firenze@scalarchives.com. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA's Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.