by Rachel Ogbu
Turner Prize-winning painter, Chris Ofili is the creative genius currently showing his extraordinary work at the British National Gallery. The centrepiece of his Weaving Magic exhibition is this incredible tapestry translated from watercolour, his first designed tapestry hanging in the middle of the room against a wall to wall painted mural that just draws you in.
I believe this is the most genuine and magnificent tapestry on this scale since the Bayeux Tapestry (made in the 1020s which described the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England culminating in the Battle of Hastings). I would argue – even better! Don’t take my word for it, The Caged Bird’s Song tapestry which was unveiled at the London National Gallery in April, will be on display until the end of August (you must go see it) but in the mean time, here are some more facts:
While the Bayeux Tapestry was created to document one of the most iconic wars in history, Ofili’s piece is an embodiment of love. He even described being so hypnotised by the weavers’ skills, he saw how they wove their lives into each thread to create something so mesmerising. Ofili who is renowned for his fluid and sensual painting style said ‘The Caged Bird’s Song’ is a marriage of watercolour and weaving. “I set out to do something free-flowing in making a watercolour, encouraging the liquid pigment to form the image, a contrast to the weaving process. With their response, which in interpretation rather than a reproduction, the weavers have paid a type of homage to the watercolour that I gave them as well as to the process of weaving,” he said.
Talking about weaving, Ofili’s latest work since he was appointed CBE by Queen Elizabeth 11 earlier this year is The Caged Bird’s Song which was inspired by Maya Angelou autobiographical work; “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” The essence of the song runs through the contemporary tapestry inspired by his adoptive home in Trinidad. He supervised the operation as the professional weavers at Dovecot Tapestry Studio knitted together the sights and sound the Trinidad with nods to the classical worlds.
What makes this piece one to pay attention to is how the master weavers in Edinburg Scotland were able to weave his water colour art- thread by thread they put together the water and the trees with an Eden like sensation felt flowing through and through.
he Caged Bird’s Song tapestry was hand woven- this makes it different from the Bayeux Tapestry which was embroidered rather than woven but enough of the comparisons now, truth be told, Ofili’s piece is in an entire league of its own.
Standing 3 meters high and over 7 metres wide, The Caged Bird’s Song tapestry took five weavers almost three years, that’s over 6000 hours comprising over 250 colours to complete. Ofili worked on this project after he was commissioned by the Clothworker’s Company to design a tapestry.
The imagery reflects Ofili’s ongoing interest in classical mythology and the stories, magic, and colour of the Trinidadian landscape he inhabits.
If you miss seeing this live in London, then you will have to catch it in the Clothworkers’ Hall.
My question to Ofili is why he incorporated footballer, Mario Balotelli in this tapestry?- right at the top, (it’s like the hidden Mickey in every Disney movie) Balotelli appears as some sort of magical cocktail waiter in the tapestry appearing in the sky and pouring down a liquid which is imbibed by the woman below.
Other pieces on show at the exhibition include; Cocktail Serenaders, Cocktail Bar, Barwuah and Balotelli.