Chris Ofili: Paradise Lost

Text by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

In 2017, Chris Ofili photographed chain-link fences throughout the island of Trinidad in order to explore notions of beauty, community, liberation, and constraint. This series of arresting images—“pocket photography,” as described by the artist—is the first body of photography ever published by Ofili. Through these entrancing black-and-white photographs, the artist engages with the diverse sources that inspired his critically acclaimed Paradise Lost exhibition at David Zwirner, New York in the fall of 2017.

Since moving to Trinidad in 2005, Ofili has continued to engage with the surrounding environment and culture, which has found its way into many of his colorful paintings. In these deceivingly simple black-and-white photographs, he captures a wide cross section of Trinidad as he highlights the encounter between natural and man-made settings, and the different aesthetic possibilities each brings out in the other. In focusing on a ubiquitous and seemingly unremarkable piece of equipment, Ofili is able to comment on our interactions with space and each other, using a near-universal subject as the fence slices the sky, melds into a tree, frames a basketball game, or reveals an opening.

In a new essay by the critically acclaimed author of Island People: The Caribbean and the World (2016), Joshua Jelly-Schapiro charts the history of chain-link fences; focusing on a selection of Ofili’s photographs, he then begins to explore what this imagery tells us about Trinidad in particular and the Caribbean as a whole. These two essays—one visual, the other literary—open onto a whole new set of interpretive possibilities for this groundbreaking artist.


Publisher: David Zwirner Books

Artists: Chris Ofili

Contributors: Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Designer: Sarah Schrauwen

Printer: VeronaLibri, Verona

Publication Date: 2018

Binding: Softcover

Dimensions: 6 x 7 ¾ in | 15.2 x 19.7 cm

Pages: 96

Reproductions: 67 duotone

ISBN: 9781941701829

Retail: $35 | £25 | $275 HKD | €34

Status: Available

Chris Ofili

Since the mid-1990s, Chris Ofili has become well known for his vibrant, technically complex, and meticulously executed paintings and works on paper. While his early works were predominantly abstract, involving intricate patterns and colors, he has since developed a signature figurative style that bridges the gap between the sacred and the profane, and by extension, between high art and popular culture. His works center around the relationship between form and content: often using several layers of paint, resin, glitter, collage elements, and occasionally, elephant dung, Ofili enlists sexual, cultural, historical, and religious references to create uniquely aesthetic and physical works that expose the darker undercurrents of society, while also celebrating contemporary black culture. Drawing on a wide range of sources—from “blaxploitation” movies, the Bible, jazz and hip hop music, comic books, Zimbabwean cave paintings, and the works of artist and poet William Blake—Ofili’s subject matter frequently employs racial stereotypes in order to challenge and reinterpret them.

All Chris Ofili books

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro is a geographer and writer whose books include Names of New York (2021) and Island People: The Caribbean and the World (2016). Jelly-Schapiro is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books and his work has also appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Artforum, and Harper’s Magazine, among many other publications. He teaches at NYU and serves as Director of Publishing at Pioneer Works.