There is a touch of Tropicália, the Brazilian movement encompassing theatre, music, poetry and popular culture evident in Turner-Prize winner, Chris Ofili’s new exhibition – Weaving Magic at National Gallery, London. The display brings together a large tapestry titled The Caged Bird’s Song, an Ofili’s painting turned into a woven mural flanked by a frieze of dancers by the Royal Opera House’s scenic painters and surrounded in a room filled with works on paper depicting various scenes of an imaginary island life.

The Caged Bird’s Song took five weavers at Dovecot Tapestry Studio, Edinburgh something like 7,000 hours to bring the original water colour to life, a process Ofili see as more of a collaboration with and a departure from working in isolation as the painter usually does. The imagery also reflects Ofili’s ongoing interest in classical mythology story-telling, and colours of the Trinidadian landscape.

Commissioned by the Clothworkers’ Company, this collaboration with Dovecot Tapestry Studio is the second time Ofili returns to The National Gallery following Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 where the artist was invited to respond to two new Titian acquisitions based on Ovid’s Greek myth. The quality of human time is embedded into the tapestry and the result is an astoundingly beautiful work that emanates sensuality, myth and mysticism through both the voluptuous grey-coloured Asiatic dancers that frame the sultry figures in the brightly coloured tapestry. Black and white contrasts the colourful explosion at the heart of this work. Whilst Ofili is used to working in a labour-intensive way, through layering of paint – pigment and collage and generally overpainting and experimenting with surface, texture and material, there is something of this intensity transferred to this new work at a time when advances in digital and printing technologies continues to make it much quicker to create artworks.

Ofili’s approach is a return to slowing-down, to looking careful and contemplating further the nature of things. In a way, a display surrounded in the gallery room by the sketches of the original watercolour made in Trinidad, and which the weavers would have kept in their sight as they weaved together this work. The exhibition display here at the National Gallery thus mimicking and giving an insight into the process and conditions of how it’s made.

Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic is at the National Gallery, London until 28 August 2017

by Jareh Das.