In 1992, while still a student, Ofili visited Zimbabwe on a British Council scholarship. The trip had an immediate impact on his work. Visiting the Matobo Hills he saw ancient cave-paintings, one of which was a wall marked only with dots.
I imagined them painting this great wall of optical, shimmering dots to the rhythm of chants and drumbeats, all of which got condensed into each dot.
Chris Ofili, in Adrian Searle, ‘Going through the motions’, Independent, 27 December 1994
It was in Zimbabwe that Ofili first applied elephant dung to his painting. He also experimented with this material by staging ‘shit sales’ in street markets in Berlin and London; he did not sell the dung, but rather stood by his pitch with dungballs laid out on fabric on the pavement. He placed an advert in the art magazine frieze simply stating: ‘ELEPHANT SHIT’ and stickers and graffiti saying the same appeared around London. Elephant dung (obtained from Whipsnade Zoo) became an integral part of his paintings, and the material for a small number of sculptures like Shithead 1993.
[Using the dungballs is] a way of raising the paintings up from the ground and giving them a feeling that they’ve come from the earth rather than simply being hung on a wall.
Chris Ofili, in Carol Vogel, ‘British artist holds fast to his inspiration’, The New York Times, 28 September 1999
Early – Mid 1990s
7 Bitches Tossing their Pussies Before the Divine Dung 1995 is a direct response to William Blake’s The Four and Twenty Elders Casting their Crowns before the Divine Throne 1803–5. Ofili made a number of sketches of this work at Tate Gallery. Talking about his painting, Ofili remarked:
I was drawn to Blake’s image first as a watercolour… At the same time I was interested in how Snoop Dogg could sing quite vulgar lyrics with a sweet, smooth West Coast voice, in the coming together of the rough and the smooth. I was curious about trying to make older ideas contemporary and new, and somehow have a relationship to hip-hop culture.
Chris Ofili, in ‘Ekow Eshun interviews Chris Ofili’, Chris Ofili exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain 2010