A major new site-specific work by Chris Ofili was unveiled at Tate Britain
. Spanning three walls, Requiem pays tribute to fellow artist Khadija Saye and remembers the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire. It offers a poetic reflection on loss, spirituality and transformation.
Chris Ofili met Khadija Saye in May 2017 when they were both exhibiting work in Venice. One month later, Saye died in the Grenfell Tower fire. Memories of their meeting had a profound impact on Ofili, which helped him find a path to create the mural Requiem. The finished work opens to the public today following private viewings for Sayes family and the Grenfell community earlier this month.
Requiem is a journey through an imagined landscape of giant skies with vast horizons and flowing water, unfolding in three chapters. The left-hand wall depicts a bowing figure representing a prophet or witness. He holds the burning tower as though conducting a ceremony of loss and his tears fall into an ocean of despair. Khadija Saye is shown at the centre of an energy force high up on the middle wall. Her pose is drawn from her work Andichurai 2017, a screenprint of which is also on display at Tate Britain. The Gambian incense pot she holds symbolises the possibility of transformation through faith. To the right is a paradise-like landscape of hope and peace, where two mythical beings make music under the shade of a tree. The entire composition is united by water, representing collective grief as well as connecting Venice, London and Ofilis home in Trinidad.
When making this work, the artist recalled the feelings he had when he made No Woman, No Cry in 1998 as a tribute to Stephen Lawrence and his mother Doreen. For Ofili, a statement of sadness was manifested in No Woman, No Cry. That feeling of injustice has returned. I wanted to make a work in tribute to Khadija Saye. Remembering the Grenfell Tower fire, I hope that the mural will continue to speak across time to our collective sadness.