Artist: Chris Ofili
Completion Date: 1996
Genre: figurative painting
Material: mixed media
Gallery: Tate Gallery, London, UK
The Holy Virgin Mary is a painting created by Chris Ofili in 1996. It was one of the works included in the Sensation exhibition in London, Berlin and New York in 1997–2000. The subject of the work, and its execution, caused considerable controversy in New York, with Rudolph Giuliani – then Mayor of New York City – describing Ofili's work as "sick".
On a yellow-orange background, the large painting (8 feet high by 6 feet wide) depicts a black woman wearing a blue robe, a traditional attribute of the Virgin Mary. The work employs mixed media, including oil paint, glitter, and polyester resin, and also elephant dung and collaged pornographic images. The central Black Madonna is surrounded by many collaged images that resemble butterflies at first sight, but on closer inspection are photographs of female genitalia; an ironic reference to the putti that appear in traditional religious art. A lump of dried, varnished elephant dung forms one bared breast, and the painting is displayed leaning against the gallery wall, supported by two other lumps of elephant dung, decorated with coloured pins: the pins on the left are arranged to spell out "Virgin" and the one on the right "Mary". Many other works by Ofili in this period – including No Woman No Cry – incorporate elephant dung, particularly as supports for the canvas, inspired by a period that Ofili spent in Zimbabwe.