Chris Ofili Upper Room


A large walnut-panelled room designed by architect David Adjaye holds the paintings. The room is approached through a dimly-lit corridor, which is designed to give a sense of anticipation. There are thirteen paintings altogether, six along each of two long facing walls, and a larger one at the shorter far end wall.

Each painting depicts a monkey based around a different colour theme (grey, red, white etc.). The twelve smaller paintings show a monkey from the side and they are based on a 1957 Andy Warhol drawing. The larger monkey is depicted from the front. Each painting is individually spotlit in the otherwise darkened room. The room is designed to create an impressive and contemplative atmosphere.

The paintings each rest on two round lumps of elephant dung, treated and coated in resin. There is also a lump of the dung on each painting. Strictly speaking, each work is mixed media, comprising paint, resin, glitter, mapping pins and elephant dung. The Upper Room as a whole is described by the Tate as an "installation".

The Upper Room is a reference to the Biblical Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples, hence the thirteen paintings. Ofili states the work is not intended to be offensive, but rather to contrast the harmonious life of the monkeys with the travails of the human race.

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