IMG_3121THE LATEST ISSUE OF ART IN AMERICA is covered with a series of vertically stacked afros. The image is a detail of “Afro Margins,” a 2007 pencil drawing by Trinidad-based artist Chris Ofili. The work is part of a series Ofili began in 2004 in London and continued when he moved to Trinidad in 2005 and finally completed in 2007. The project was exhibited at David Zwirner in New York in 2009.

At the time, the gallery noted that the eight drawings featured in the show are a departure from the large-scale paintings for which Ofili is known. His paintings and works on paper are both provocative and celebratory, exploring race and gender issues through cultural and historical references. The artist has invoked afros in his figurative work and as abstract motifs for two decades.

A press release for the exhibit, describes the symbolism in the drawings: “The ‘margin’—created by darkened ‘afro heads’ piled vertically into columns and varying in size – suggests gothic towers and aboriginal totems. With each work, Ofili started by consciously considering the width of the column, discovering and breaking the tension of the blank page. As the series progressed, conceptions of blackness also figured as a way to understand the margin.”

“Chris Ofili: Afro Margin,” a limited-edition 24-page catalogue of 500, signed and numbered by Ofili, was published on Feb. 28, 2010.

In her editor’s letter, Lindsay Pollock discussed the June 2014 Art in America cover:

“Controversial for his exuberant figurative paintings in dung and glitter, Ofili has here contributed a relatively somber composition, choosing a detail from a series of pencil drawings entitled “Afro Margins.” Stringing together small abstracted heads with Afro hairdos, Ofili ultimately clusters them into an undifferentiated black block at the right side of the page. While laced with humor—and even making associations with Dante de Blasio and New York’s recent mayoral race—the cover warrants consideration in light of Mary Reid Kelley’s WWI article. Both artists would seem to argue that art and satire can help us endure the pain wrought by humanity’s foibles, whether the horrors of war or the injustices of racism.” —Lindsay Pollock, AIA Editor

Born in Manchester, England, Ofili won the Turner Prize in 1998. In 2009, Thelma Golden and architect David Adjaye contributed to “Chris Ofili,” the first book to examine the artist’s development. His first major monograph was published in 2010 to coincide with a major survey of his work at the Tate Britain.

This fall, Ofili’s first U.S. survey will be presented at the New Museum in New York. “Chris Ofili: Night and Day” will feature two decades of paintings, drawings and sculpture, and will be on view from Oct. 29, 2014 to Feb. 1, 2015. A fully illustrated catalog will be published to coincide with the exhibition. CT


Cover: “Afro Margins” by Chris Ofili | Art in America, June 2014


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