Chris Ofili - The Caged Bird's Song imagine...


Chris Ofili - The Caged Bird's Song

Alan Yentob follows the celebrated Turner Prize-winning British artist Chris Ofili as he creates a spectacular contemporary tapestry - The Caged Bird's Song.


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Take this island like a dose of medicine

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To heal your centuries of wandering

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Find yourself here as if in a dream

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Emerging from the mists of afternoon thunderstorms

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Waterfalls pound your head into shape

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Let the sea beat your longing out of you

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But you sense spirits here

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Restless spirits to whom no priest or pundit bid farewell

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You have not forgotten them

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Like the names of your ancestors

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Strange names of disparate tongues from far-flung places

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Let this island medicine intoxicate you

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Let the liquor dance a spirit dance in your veins

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It is Paradise lost

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A paradise of loss

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This is where you come to find yourself

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This is where much has disappeared

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Into the forest, into the cane fields

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Among the lost things of this island, find yourself whole again.

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For over a decade the British artist Chris Ofili

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has made the Caribbean island of Trinidad his home.

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For me, one of the attractive things about Trinidad is

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it's still quite mysterious.

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I've been there for 12 years

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and it still feels like it's brand-new.

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Completely starting again

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and creatively

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wide open.

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From his explosive early works featuring riotous colours,

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collage and, infamously, elephant dung,

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Chris Ofili has always pushed the possibilities of painting.

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But his time in Trinidad has been a creative rebirth.

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There's so much of it and it's so powerful -

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the density of the forest...

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..the depth of the ocean...

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..the beauty on the surface...

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It's just a very kind of painterly island.

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One of my challenges, it feels,

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is to find a way to bring those elements together

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and for them to coexist

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but still be themselves,

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still have that character.

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His latest project attempts just this.

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It's a remarkable collaboration, a giant tapestry,

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almost three metres high and over seven metres wide,

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that is centrepiece of a new Ofili exhibition

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at the National Gallery in London.

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Created alongside a team of master weavers,

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it's taken nearly three years to complete.

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The result is a magical piece

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that weaves together the sights and sounds of Trinidad...

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..with nods to both the classical world and, unexpectedly,

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the Italian footballer Mario Balotelli.

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And he's called it The Caged Bird's Song.

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It brings to mind the idea of the question of sweetness of the song.

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BIRD SINGS

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Is the sweeter song the song of the uncaged bird

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or the song of the caged bird?

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And what that really is asking about liberation and constraint

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and how that could potentially relate to...

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..being human.

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The story begins four and a half thousand miles away from Trinidad...

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..in Edinburgh.

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This former Victorian swimming baths is home to Dovecot Studios,

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one of the world's leading creators of hand-woven tapestries.

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Back in 2013, the studio was approached by the Clothworkers,

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a London livery company with a rich textile history,

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who were looking to make a bold new commission.

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We were hoping for a contemporary, a modern, vibrant tapestry,

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and we were looking for an established,

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outstanding British artist.

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Dovecot came up with a short list, and then,

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when we found that Chris was very keen to experiment outside his usual

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field, to go in to tapestry, we were absolutely delighted.

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The Clothworkers wrote and asked if I would consider making a tapestry

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for their dining hall.

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Which, to me, at the time, seemed like a commission.

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Which is something that I would normally run away from

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because I felt that the fear is that they would want to have a say in

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what I produce.

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Which, I think...

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raised a level of anxiety that I didn't really want to take on.

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So I think I sent back a number of, like, questions

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and they were pretty much a list of things I wasn't going to do, like

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I didn't want to see where it was going to go,

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I didn't want to meet them.

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and I didn't want to have a conversation about content.

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That's rather brilliant!

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On every front, you just nixed them.

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Yeah, and they were like, "Yeah, that's no problem. No problem. No problem."

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Then I got more suspicious.

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I thought, no, now they've agreed to everything,

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that means that they've got something up their sleeve.

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The way that Chris works with colours really is fascinating,

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and we thought that would very much fulfil the bill.

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We wanted a Chris Ofili piece, we wanted him to be happy.

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At home in Trinidad, Ofili created a vibrant design for the tapestry -

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a triptych, painted - rather mischievously - in watercolour.

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I thought about watercolour,

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because the subject is pretty much about water and fluidity.

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And I also thought it would be funny to see if the weavers could actually

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weave... Water. ..water.

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So I found myself making a watercolour

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and trying to release the pigment even more,

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and almost giggling at the fact that it was almost impossible for them to

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achieve it.

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There's no way they're going to be able to do this.

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So... Let's just sit back and watch.

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But when I came with the watercolour

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and met them, they had a kind of solidity to them, and a confidence,

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a creative confidence, about their own process.

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Thankfully, they were really open to the challenge of it.

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And also open to the mystery

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as to whether or not they could achieve it.

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For the weavers, it was a major undertaking.

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To create a tapestry of this size

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and complexity would take years of their lives.

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An investment of thousands of hours.

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Haven't you chosen something quite challenging?

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Because watercolours must be incredibly difficult to weave and to

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do as tapestries. Yes, I agree.

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The watercolour is, like, multi-layered, so you're often

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looking at the colours underneath to come up through, as well.

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Rather than just a block of colour.

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So mixing is very important.

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They want... They did a colour strip, wove it in front of me,

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and they started to put together threads to make that turquoise fizz

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in front of my eyes, when you look at it as a solid colour.

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And I realised that was completely different to my understanding of it.

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And so I felt as though I could just let go and float with this process.

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These are the bobbins that we use for weaving with.

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If you're wanting to weave something that looks all the same colour,

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but you don't want it to look flat like cardboard,

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you would make a mix with very close colours,

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and then it would just gently look like the same colour.

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If you twist it like that,

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you get more of an idea of what it's going to weave up like.

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So these are more subtle, different variations of these colours.

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I can see these... That's right, yes.

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I think we lifted the colour from the original image.

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But there's almost no pure colour in here, is there?

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It's all a mix... It's all a mix, yes. ..which watercolour is, really.

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Absolutely. Making those mixtures means that we can get the subtlety

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and the richness. But it also means that we can blend one colour

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into another to get that... This watercolour effect.

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Watercolour and wool are such completely different materials. Yes!

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He's a master colourist, Chris Ofili, so,

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he wanted to challenge them by using a watercolour pigment,

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which is the most free-flowing of the pigments,

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and so you get this wonderful paradox between this spontaneous,

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very free-flowing artist's medium,

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which then becomes this permanent fixed three-dimensional object

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of a tapestry.

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There is that great variation in the watercolours themselves, very lush,

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and then almost non-colour and the use of charcoal.

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I call them midweek colours.

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Midweek colours? Yeah, midweek colours, and the weekend colours are

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the popping colours that you get around.

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On the right-hand side, you've got the male figure carrying a bird cage.

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And he's drawn in charcoal and his clothing is turquoise.

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I remember putting the turquoise down and the colour just suddenly

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started to bleed really quickly.

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I remember thinking, "Oh, no! I've screwed it up!"

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Right? It's out of control.

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And then, I just thought, this is kind of hilarious.

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That they are now going to capture that moment,

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and I still see it when I look at it.

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You're a bit of a sadist, aren't you?

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No! No! I think it was just to see if...

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It was a way of trying to have a dialogue, really.

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So, what of the actual narrative within Ofili's tapestry design?

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Both the glowing colour palette and much of its imagery draws

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inspiration from his adopted island home of Trinidad.

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Including that of the caged bird.

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I could go into full investigation

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and try and get to the bottom of the caged-bird phenomenon.

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But I like...

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I like to almost observe it from a distance.

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You could be running around the Savanna,

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and somebody would come towards you, walking,

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and they're carrying a little bird in a cage.

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Then you can go to these competitions, which is like

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a kind of orchestra of little birds in cages, singing, you know.

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In the mornings in Trinidad, there's incredible birdsong.

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BIRDSONG

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Keeping songbirds is a surprisingly macho subculture on the island.

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The birds are fed a local seed grass, known as crab eye,

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to help them perform to the best of their abilities.

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I grew up here and my grandfather used to mine then, my father,

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and now I have them. I inherit some of them even from my grandfather.

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These birds live long.

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These birds live up to 30, 35 years.

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Human years.

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In a cage.

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The notes of the birds singing is just pleasing to my ear.

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When I listen to my birds, I have to play music, I like that song.

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It's...

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We just love the birds.

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It's all about the birds.

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I haven't, to this day, got myself my own caged bird.

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But every time I go to somebody's home and I see one there on the porch,

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I do think it's a beautiful thing to be able to have around.

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Some of the songs of these caged birds are just...

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..divine. Really, really divine.

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So sweet.

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And they really just kind of captivate you and throw you

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into another kind of world, really.

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MUSIC: You're Goin' Miss Your Candyman by Terry Callier

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Chris, he appreciates what we have here.

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This place is just such a rich bed for anyone who wants to study

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culture and people

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and the various nuances associated with such, you know?

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Especially those who have a particular creative energy.

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I think it's very...

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..very inspiring. Very inspiring.

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The natural world has been a huge source of delight for him,

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and you really see this in the works that he made since he moved to Trinidad.

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There's a tropical world, the colours are more vivid.

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The birds sing more loudly.

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You know, the sun shines more brightly.

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He's not the only artist to have moved to that kind of

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island paradise in the past.

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And I think it's inevitable that what you see around you becomes...

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becomes part of the landscape, becomes part of your repertoire.

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One of the interesting things about

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a great artist is that they often make a story their own.

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And you can see Chris doing that.

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You know, what you're looking at, really, in the tapestry,

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is what could be seen as a curtain being pulled back for a brief moment.

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And what's happening behind the curtain.

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And then when the curtain closes again,

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the man holding the caged bird, the lady holding the bird seed

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continue back on their journey.

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But just to try to understand the journey you went on, this is,

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in the end, one image, but you went through

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lots and lots of different stages.

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You didn't just arrive at that idea.

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There was a point at which I was quite clear on what the image was

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going to be. But I wanted to be able to render it with ease.

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And so, in order to do that, you kind of have to go through a few

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different iterations, really, of the same thing.

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To see what happens when a curve moves left instead of right,

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or a stroke is done from the bottom up, or the top down.

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And it's just to see which flows better.

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The fluidity is also part of the process of making,

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not only just the image itself.

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The sense of flow and the presence of water is everywhere in Ofili's

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early designs for the piece.

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A couple sit by a waterfall with a river swirling around them.

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The man is busy serenading, while the woman sips a cocktail.

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And the cocktail is being poured by a strange, abstracted figure,

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based on an image of the Italian footballer Mario Balotelli in tears.

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So, Chris, where does it all begin with Mario?

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Um... I was interested in the fact that maybe the tears,

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his tears, could become part of the cocktail. Ah!

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Yeah, that there's this kind of deep underlying sadness to him

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that's being transferred into this potion, or drink.

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But, in this case, I wanted to really collage the image that I was

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working from, staple it on.

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For it to be there, still in its raw state.

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And later, it became these drawings.

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This watercolour, as well.

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Using Mario Balotelli as a muse

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connects various threads in Ofili's own story.

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Born and raised in Manchester to Nigerian parents,

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Chris's explorations of race and Afro identity -

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both playful and serious -

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have always been a distinctive feature of his work.

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In 1998,

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he won the Turner Prize for paintings

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that included a poignant depiction of Doreen Lawrence,

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grieving her son Stephen's brutal murder.

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For me, it's about trying to make a painting about tremendous loss.

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I mean, I focused on the image that was strongest to me,

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which was of Doreen, his mother, crying.

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And that just seemed like such a powerful image.

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When I finished the painting it felt like that raw emotion, that sorrow,

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it felt like that was actually in the room.

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As for Balotelli, the son of Ghanaian immigrants to Sicily,

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he was later fostered by an Italian family.

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But his footballing gifts are often overshadowed by his own volatile

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reputation, and racism within the game.

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I'm a Manchester United supporter.

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He played for Man City.

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So...I can't, in my heart, say that I think he's a wonderful footballer.

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Because he's wearing the wrong-colour shirt.

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But I think there are other qualities to him

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that are outside of his abilities as a sportsman.

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Qualities that seem much more mythical.

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I think, you know, the fact that he's a black African Italian.

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He is...

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..complex. He is mischievous,

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but also tortured.

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He symbolises the way race plays a part, still, in sport.

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I think he's a maverick, in a way that you don't often get.

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I've worked with images of him before,

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and this is another one, I'm still trying to figure it out.

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It's not... It's not fixed.

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And I think, with him, it's also not fixed.

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So I've cast him in this sense, as a...

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..cocktail waiter.

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Which you've done... You've done a bit of cocktail...

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Yeah, I've done that, too.

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Yeah. I like that idea of almost being in disguise, really.

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But you're also able to take on another personality

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or another persona.

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Is that because when you were doing it you were trying

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to kind of get a glimpse of the world as it was,

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and so you were out there...?

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See it differently, yeah. To try and see things differently momentarily.

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And not be yourself.

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And to play the part thoroughly.

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You get to see something else.

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You know. There are, you know...

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Let's just say there are great cocktail waiters in the world.

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There must be something other than just mixing drinks.

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You might get to see people...

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..differently.

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Adopting masks and alternative personas

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has deep cultural roots in Trinidad.

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Much of the island's multicultural population is the colonial legacy.

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Generations of African slaves and indentured Indian labourers

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toiled on its sugar and cocoa plantations.

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When we think about the Amerindians who lived here...

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..that this place was based...

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..and constructed, if you want, on their slaughter.

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You know, an African enslavement.

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Indian indenture.

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And these are things which

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we have to look at,

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to see where we go from there.

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Trinidad's annual carnival is a visceral celebration

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that emerged from slave rebellion.

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When rebellion is put down, as most of them have been...

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..the ideas that people

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revolt on behalf of, or against, do not disappear.

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The people's attitude to these things also doesn't disappear.

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Right? What happens is that this moves into the culture.

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And that is why art and culture functions in

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such subversive ways in a kind of way,

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because you're looking for them to frontally to be saying one thing,

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and then they are saying something else, you know?

0:25:160:25:19

It's a very interesting thing about our Carnival, we have, like,

0:25:330:25:37

this whole pantheon of devils.

0:25:370:25:39

In our mythology we have so many shape shifters.

0:25:400:25:44

You know, there are so many characters that change perspective,

0:25:440:25:48

and change their outward appearance

0:25:480:25:50

to achieve certain things.

0:25:500:25:52

When you put on a costume, especially a blue devil,

0:25:570:26:00

you become uninhibited.

0:26:000:26:02

You know what I mean? Your energy is raw.

0:26:020:26:05

It's raw. You kind of cast away your inhibitions.

0:26:050:26:09

And as we say in Trinidad, you are free of yourself.

0:26:090:26:12

It's flowing, and it's free.

0:26:120:26:14

I don't know, maybe that's part of what Chris

0:26:140:26:17

experiences here. A certain level of freedom.

0:26:170:26:20

The thing about Chris is that he... He disappears in a place like this.

0:26:370:26:42

He doesn't stand out, in that sense.

0:26:430:26:45

His blackness includes him in the society,

0:26:460:26:49

in a way that if he was a white artist, he would not.

0:26:490:26:52

His otherness is different here than it would be in England.

0:26:550:26:59

For somebody who is a transplant from somewhere else,

0:27:010:27:06

but a transplant from somewhere else that he doesn't know at all,

0:27:060:27:10

there is a kind of...

0:27:100:27:11

..familiarity about the place.

0:27:130:27:14

The mythology, the history,

0:27:190:27:22

the fact that Trinidad's full of people with different histories,

0:27:220:27:27

did you just somehow absorb that and then sort of

0:27:270:27:30

filter it into your story?

0:27:300:27:33

I think it's an ongoing process.

0:27:330:27:36

I mean, I think, for me,

0:27:360:27:38

one of the attractive things about Trinidad is that it's still quite

0:27:380:27:41

mysterious. And you think you are going in one direction,

0:27:410:27:46

and you realise you're actually not going in that direction.

0:27:460:27:48

If anything, it's kind of kept things open.

0:27:480:27:52

And allowed...

0:27:520:27:54

..it to feel... To still feel like life is still being collaged

0:27:560:28:01

together as I go along.

0:28:010:28:03

Meanwhile, bringing Ofili's watercolour design to life

0:28:070:28:11

remains a daunting task for the weavers.

0:28:110:28:14

And yet, the whole art of tapestry-making

0:28:150:28:18

is incredibly exacting, and labour-intensive.

0:28:180:28:21

For centuries, tapestries were cherished for these very reasons.

0:28:240:28:28

They were to the north of Europe what fresco was to the south.

0:28:290:28:33

Vast projections of power, wealth and sophistication.

0:28:340:28:38

Henry VIII's personal collection

0:28:410:28:44

would have stretched three miles if laid end to end.

0:28:440:28:47

But the intricate processes involved in creating tapestry have changed

0:28:490:28:53

very little over the years.

0:28:530:28:54

Everything has to be made from scratch,

0:28:560:28:58

and Ofili's original watercolours dramatically scaled up.

0:28:580:29:03

One of the reasons we were really

0:29:030:29:04

looking forward to working with Chris

0:29:040:29:06

after his work doing some set designs of backdrops for a ballet,

0:29:060:29:12

we thought that he can imagine his work on that sort of scale.

0:29:120:29:15

And so we knew that they would work well.

0:29:170:29:20

That's your photocopy, is it?

0:29:200:29:21

That's a photocopy, yes.

0:29:210:29:23

You can see at the bottom it says, "Please enlarge by 877%."

0:29:230:29:27

So from that we get a line drawing that we call the cartoon -

0:29:280:29:32

so you can see these lines here -

0:29:320:29:34

which is quite a laborious process.

0:29:340:29:36

Is it? Why is that?

0:29:360:29:38

Each mark has to be made not just on the front of

0:29:380:29:42

the warp thread but also all the way round.

0:29:420:29:45

Wow. I can see what you mean.

0:29:450:29:47

So this could take weeks!

0:29:470:29:48

And we're looking at the lines that are actually on the warps.

0:29:520:29:55

We are constantly referring back to the image with the small cartoon

0:29:550:29:59

sitting over the top. Already from this conversation,

0:29:590:30:02

I can see how exhausting this must be.

0:30:020:30:05

You've got to work systematically through the image.

0:30:050:30:10

At the back of the tapestry here,

0:30:120:30:14

you can see as the tapestry is woven,

0:30:140:30:16

it's rolled down onto this bottom roller.

0:30:160:30:19

So these are sections which have already been woven.

0:30:190:30:23

Oh, that's beautiful.

0:30:230:30:24

Then, once it's rolled down,

0:30:260:30:28

we won't see that again until the tapestry is cut off the loom.

0:30:280:30:32

Over the 2? years that we've been talking and working

0:30:460:30:49

together, what I've observed is that they weave their lives and

0:30:490:30:54

their souls into the work,

0:30:540:30:57

so it's not something that you can just sit around knitting,

0:30:570:31:01

chewing gum and watching daytime TV at the same time.

0:31:010:31:04

You really have to be engaged fully, but also in some ways...

0:31:040:31:09

..quite detached, you know.

0:31:100:31:13

Because you can't...

0:31:130:31:14

I mean, when they're doing it, they're doing it...

0:31:140:31:16

..an inch at a time, or whatever it is that they are able to do it.

0:31:170:31:21

Yeah. It's millions of decisions.

0:31:210:31:22

I know, and yet, you can't see the whole, so the emotional engagement...

0:31:220:31:26

Yeah. ..which goes into it and which you can see in the result...

0:31:260:31:29

Yeah, yeah. ..is all the more surprising.

0:31:290:31:32

Yeah, because there were passages in there where they may be in a kind of

0:31:340:31:38

meditation on greys and greens for three weeks

0:31:380:31:42

and then it shifts all of a sudden to a violet or a turquoise

0:31:420:31:47

and I know that at those moments,

0:31:470:31:50

they're almost like kind of woken from reverie or a dream and, like,

0:31:500:31:56

you know - is this too much?

0:31:560:31:58

You know, is the shift too drastic?

0:31:580:32:00

What happened?

0:32:000:32:01

And I think that comes out of not being able to see the image.

0:32:010:32:05

It's just suddenly, there's a kind of jarring.

0:32:050:32:09

At the centre of this is this sort of magician figure.

0:32:090:32:12

It's something very playful about it but also very mysterious.

0:32:120:32:15

You don't know quite, that pouring of a cocktail,

0:32:150:32:18

you don't know where it's going to go. It's green, yeah.

0:32:180:32:21

It's a green cocktail.

0:32:210:32:22

It's unknown if it's poison or if it's enhancing.

0:32:220:32:28

It's falling, as well,

0:32:280:32:30

so she's unaware that it's falling into the glass.

0:32:300:32:33

She's listening to the music.

0:32:350:32:37

Yeah. Yeah. She's listening to music.

0:32:370:32:39

The guy's playing some beautiful music by the waterfall.

0:32:390:32:42

And she's drinking a cocktail.

0:32:420:32:44

I like the idea that in the foreground,

0:32:450:32:47

you can almost feel the spray from the waterfall on their faces. Yeah.

0:32:470:32:53

When you get a bubbly cocktail,

0:32:570:32:59

you get the bubbles that go on your face,

0:32:590:33:01

just as you drink the first sip.

0:33:010:33:03

It's a wonderful moment of a couple in their own joyous world.

0:33:030:33:11

It's a tropical Adam and Eve on an island paradise,

0:33:140:33:17

so it's a kind of vision of Arcadia.

0:33:170:33:20

It's a vision of paradise, but a temporary...

0:33:200:33:24

It's a temporary state and it's as though there's a darkening to come.

0:33:240:33:27

When you see Arcadian visions

0:33:290:33:32

in paintings of the past,

0:33:320:33:34

whether by Cezanne or going all the way back to Titian,

0:33:340:33:37

often it's a vision which is somehow threatened.

0:33:370:33:41

There is something on the horizon which suggests it is changing,

0:33:440:33:49

something is about to happen, something is about to take place.

0:33:490:33:52

They're exposed. The curtain's been pulled back

0:33:520:33:55

and they're not aware and also,

0:33:550:33:57

there's something being added to the mix.

0:33:570:34:00

But also in the distance,

0:34:040:34:06

there's this brooding storm that's approaching.

0:34:060:34:08

THUNDER RUMBLES

0:34:110:34:13

Trinidad is a land of extremes.

0:34:160:34:19

You know, extreme beauty,

0:34:190:34:22

but we also have an extreme ugliness, too.

0:34:220:34:26

We have a current situation that we need to address.

0:34:260:34:29

I work for the government

0:34:320:34:34

and primarily, it's a programme that, you know, does social outreach

0:34:340:34:39

and community organising within high-needs communities

0:34:390:34:44

and get them to address the risk factors that,

0:34:440:34:49

you know, that contribute to the crime and violence within

0:34:490:34:52

the communities, with the aim of obviously reducing it and preventing

0:34:520:34:55

it as much as we can.

0:34:550:34:57

It's a kind of paradise that is not without problems.

0:35:030:35:08

It is riddled with problems but, for me, that makes it -

0:35:080:35:12

dare I say? - more attractive,

0:35:120:35:15

because you're looking at the kind of reality.

0:35:150:35:17

It's not hidden away.

0:35:170:35:19

It's truth.

0:35:190:35:20

At times, it's almost too true, you know - newspaper photography

0:35:230:35:29

really spells out what happened when that person was murdered.

0:35:290:35:33

You could be sat looking at the most beautiful rolling hills in

0:35:330:35:35

the background as the same time as looking at, you know,

0:35:350:35:38

the daily news, which is harrowing at times.

0:35:380:35:40

# Me and the devil

0:35:420:35:43

# Walking side by side

0:35:460:35:49

# Me and the devil

0:35:530:35:55

# Walking side by side. #

0:35:580:36:00

I think it is a place of extremes.

0:36:080:36:10

In some ways, it seems very industrial.

0:36:100:36:12

There is oil and natural gas and the processing of, so you get...

0:36:120:36:17

You feel as though you're not in a tropical island,

0:36:170:36:19

you're actually in an industrial island and then, within 20 minutes,

0:36:190:36:25

you can be in a forest

0:36:250:36:28

and have no feeling of that whatsoever.

0:36:280:36:31

And shortly after,

0:36:310:36:32

you can be right on the coast line and be, like, experiencing your own

0:36:320:36:37

fragility and feeling terrified,

0:36:370:36:39

in the waves and seeing, like, you know,

0:36:390:36:42

the force of swells and see the way light has an effect on the movement

0:36:420:36:48

of water and it can be very, very beautiful but very raw.

0:36:480:36:52

I mean, Chris is a guy, you know, since I've met him, really and

0:36:550:36:59

truly, he loves the sea, the river, the waterfalls,

0:36:590:37:05

you know, going into the bush, he has his hunting dogs.

0:37:050:37:08

He doesn't necessarily hunt, but he has hunting dogs that he takes into

0:37:080:37:11

the tracks and stuff quite regularly, you know.

0:37:110:37:15

And he goes, he'll go by himself with his dogs, you know,

0:37:150:37:18

so it's not even to say it's a social thing.

0:37:180:37:22

It's just to reconnect and stay connected to that source.

0:37:220:37:26

He most probably knows the island better than a lot of locals,

0:37:260:37:30

to be quite honest.

0:37:300:37:32

You don't see colours like this anywhere else.

0:37:370:37:41

As far as I know, Chris actually works with

0:37:410:37:44

those people who make paint, to get the specific colour, you know.

0:37:440:37:49

You know,

0:38:000:38:01

he's very nerdy about things like that, you know, it's like...

0:38:010:38:04

It's like, "Yeah, yeah, just got this, like this

0:38:040:38:08

"really specific blue."

0:38:080:38:10

You know, it's, "Yeah, cool, OK!"

0:38:100:38:13

Yeah.

0:38:150:38:16

The landscape deserves that attention,

0:38:190:38:21

so they're well suited to each other, Chris and the landscape.

0:38:210:38:24

# Can you feel a little love?

0:38:350:38:39

# Can you feel a little love? #

0:38:420:38:46

Places that I've gone to, like various waterfalls,

0:38:500:38:53

it serves me best to visit and revisit and revisit and revisit,

0:38:530:38:57

whereas I think in other instances,

0:38:570:39:01

you feel as though you can get it the first time.

0:39:010:39:03

# Oh, shame upon the universe It knows its lines... #

0:39:030:39:06

Maybe a bit like a waterfall,

0:39:060:39:08

this kind of never-ending process that it never quite is the same.

0:39:080:39:12

And maybe what I'm really talking about is the power of nature,

0:39:160:39:19

rather than just us as human beings.

0:39:190:39:22

# You party for a living

0:39:220:39:24

# What you take won't kill you

0:39:240:39:25

# But careful what you're giving... #

0:39:250:39:28

This hunting, this is part of what you're doing.

0:39:280:39:31

You're looking, you're seeing.

0:39:310:39:33

Yeah. Your mood is changing.

0:39:330:39:35

You're seeing things from a different perspective all the time.

0:39:350:39:38

Yeah, yeah. It's conscious, yeah.

0:39:380:39:39

I'm consciously going to

0:39:390:39:42

be inspired by something.

0:39:420:39:44

# Dream on, dream on... #

0:39:470:39:50

For me, one of the very intriguing and beguiling things about him as an

0:39:550:40:00

artist is his willingness to take his painting into other areas and to

0:40:000:40:06

adapt his style to meet different needs and different requirements.

0:40:060:40:11

Many of the artists who hang on the walls of the National Gallery -

0:40:120:40:17

Goya, Rubens, Bronzino, Pisanello - many,

0:40:170:40:21

many of these artists have in the past designed for tapestry,

0:40:210:40:25

and so by placing Chris Ofili in this context,

0:40:250:40:29

he becomes part of the tapestry tradition.

0:40:290:40:32

This wonderful tradition

0:40:330:40:35

that has been going on for centuries.

0:40:350:40:38

It's taken 29 months,

0:40:410:40:43

over 6,000 hours of endeavour and 35 kilos of wool,

0:40:430:40:48

but the weavers' work

0:40:480:40:50

is done.

0:40:500:40:51

Their final act, weaving their initials

0:40:530:40:56

alongside Chris's into the fabric of the tapestry.

0:40:560:41:00

All that remains is for the last section to be freed from the loom in

0:41:020:41:06

a traditional ceremony called the cutting off.

0:41:060:41:09

This phrase - the cutting off - today is the cutting off -

0:41:110:41:14

it's a startling phrase anyway, but what's it mean?

0:41:140:41:18

I guess

0:41:180:41:20

the thought is that it's quite final and after that,

0:41:200:41:24

there's very little you can do to change the outcome and all of our

0:41:240:41:27

efforts have already happened.

0:41:270:41:29

There's a sense of relief as well sometimes that that's it finished.

0:41:290:41:34

Yeah. And it is what it is now.

0:41:340:41:36

And how are you feeling about Chris Ofili turning up today?

0:41:360:41:39

Maybe slightly nervous, but...

0:41:400:41:42

I think his incredible positivity about what we're doing and the way

0:41:430:41:48

we've done it and... It reaffirms that we're translating his image in

0:41:480:41:53

a way that he's really pleased with.

0:41:530:41:55

What's your life going to be like without this?

0:41:550:41:58

I don't know, cos it's etched so deeply in there now.

0:41:580:42:01

Good to see you.

0:42:060:42:08

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

0:42:080:42:09

Exciting moment. Absolutely.

0:42:090:42:11

Thanks, first, Chris, to you.

0:42:160:42:19

I wonder whether I might just paraphrase and I don't know whether

0:42:190:42:22

I'll get this right, but it was a Herman Hesse quote -

0:42:220:42:25

"In new beginnings dwells a magic force."

0:42:250:42:29

And I think we really sensed that there was a magic force, Chris,

0:42:290:42:34

the first day that you came to this studio

0:42:340:42:37

and took time to talk with the weaving team,

0:42:370:42:40

to talk tapestry and to explore ideas,

0:42:400:42:43

and so that magic force seems to have gone on through the three years

0:42:430:42:48

of this project. And so how appropriate, of course,

0:42:480:42:51

that the exhibition in the National Gallery

0:42:510:42:53

should be called Weaving Magic.

0:42:530:42:55

That's it.

0:43:000:43:01

Like it, nice confidence.

0:43:130:43:15

Yeah, let's get this over with.

0:43:150:43:16

CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

0:43:160:43:18

Today will be the very first time anyone has seen the final panel.

0:43:350:43:39

Here.

0:43:450:43:46

You do that, cut the last one. This last bit? Yeah.

0:43:460:43:50

APPLAUSE

0:43:550:43:56

And all three sections of the finished tapestry

0:44:340:44:37

can now be revealed as one unified work of art.

0:44:370:44:41

CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

0:44:430:44:45

When you saw it today...

0:44:520:44:53

Mm.

0:44:530:44:55

..what impact did it have on you?

0:44:550:44:56

What did you make of it?

0:44:560:44:58

Spellbinding was a word that came to mind.

0:44:580:45:01

There is a kind of magic in it, really.

0:45:010:45:04

I know how it's been made and I understand it, but still,

0:45:040:45:09

you know, still, you're looking at it, you're like, hang on a minute.

0:45:090:45:13

That's a pool of pigment that's been rendered in...

0:45:140:45:19

in wool. But it's still a pool of pigment.

0:45:190:45:22

They still managed to maintain those qualities.

0:45:220:45:24

One of the astonishing things about seeing

0:45:410:45:44

a contemporary tapestry is

0:45:440:45:46

its colour, because historic tapestries, they fade, they're very,

0:45:460:45:50

very susceptible to the effects of light, particularly blue colours,

0:45:500:45:53

so it's very unusual to see a historic tapestry with any blue in

0:45:530:45:59

it and Chris Ofili's tapestry is full of blue,

0:45:590:46:01

so I think that the colour will amaze people.

0:46:010:46:06

The depth of colour - and I don't think anyone had any idea

0:46:060:46:09

of the pinks, the kind of rose-tinted yellows

0:46:090:46:13

that suddenly came out in that third panel.

0:46:130:46:16

I mean, the story of making this tapestry is the story of many,

0:46:210:46:25

many people's hard work.

0:46:250:46:27

It is extraordinary to see an object that has taken almost three years to

0:46:290:46:35

make, five people,

0:46:350:46:37

often three of them sitting at the loom at the same time.

0:46:370:46:42

It's that collaborative,

0:46:420:46:44

collective act and it's the quality of human time which I think is

0:46:440:46:49

embedded into the tapestry

0:46:490:46:52

and I think is one of the reasons why it is

0:46:520:46:55

such an alluring object to look at.

0:46:550:46:57

For his National Gallery exhibition, Chris Ofili, the master conjuror,

0:47:070:47:12

has one final flourish up his sleeve.

0:47:120:47:14

In a complete transformation of the gallery's Sunley Room,

0:47:170:47:21

he's worked with scenic painters from the Royal Opera House

0:47:210:47:24

to adorn every inch of wall space

0:47:240:47:26

with a towering frieze of androgynous dancing figures.

0:47:260:47:31

When I decided that I was going to paint the room with this imagery,

0:47:340:47:38

I still never knew how it was going to relate to the colour decisions

0:47:380:47:45

that we made in the tapestry and, in a way, that excited me,

0:47:450:47:49

because I was really anxious to know if that was going to work.

0:47:490:47:53

The only thing missing is the tapestry itself.

0:47:560:47:59

To mark the occasion,

0:48:000:48:02

Chris has brought his kids along for the install.

0:48:020:48:04

He's a very good decision-maker.

0:48:330:48:35

He holds back but he knows when he needs to make a decision and he

0:48:350:48:41

always makes a good one.

0:48:410:48:43

Where was it... Yeah, do you want to put it there, then?

0:48:430:48:46

Let's just lower it. Let's just see the hands. Just lower your side.

0:49:000:49:03

Oh, right.

0:49:040:49:06

Is it heavy? It's fine. Yeah? Yeah.

0:49:090:49:12

Hanging giant tapestries, though, is harder than it looks.

0:49:170:49:21

Yeah. Are you happy?

0:49:260:49:29

Yeah, thank you. That's brilliant.

0:49:290:49:30

BIRDSONG AND MUSIC

0:49:480:49:50

So how does it feel, Chris?

0:50:200:50:21

Every time I come in, I'm still a bit, like,

0:50:220:50:26

"Wow! What's going on here?" Still trying to figure it out.

0:50:260:50:30

I enjoy the grisaille of the walls and then this popping out of colour.

0:50:300:50:35

The whole room and the images contained within the room

0:50:370:50:40

feel like a dream state.

0:50:400:50:41

I must say, it's hallucinogenic.

0:50:460:50:48

Yes, it is, yes.

0:50:480:50:50

It is. I could end up being a little unstable.

0:50:500:50:53

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

0:50:530:50:55

Yeah, you step back, you know...

0:50:550:50:56

Whoa, it's a lot!

0:50:560:50:59

What are you expecting, what are you hoping for from the public

0:51:090:51:12

when they actually come and see this for the first time?

0:51:120:51:15

I hope in some ways that the people visiting

0:51:150:51:19

can almost approach this in a similar way that the weavers did,

0:51:190:51:25

that they can find an opportunity in being in this room,

0:51:250:51:29

to immerse themselves somehow in the work.

0:51:290:51:33

WOMAN: My first feeling was, "Wow!"

0:51:360:51:38

The colours are just amazing.

0:51:400:51:41

I love the feel of it.

0:51:430:51:44

MAN: It's just a really sort of stunning but subtle effect.

0:51:470:51:50

I don't know how they did it.

0:51:510:51:52

And what's this mysterious liquid, flowing into her cocktail glass?

0:51:540:52:01

MAN: It looks like he's flowing.

0:52:030:52:05

There's no end to it, really.

0:52:050:52:07

It could go on and on and on.

0:52:070:52:08

Just couldn't actually believe that it was a tapestry.

0:52:150:52:18

The bleed, across in the greens and the purples,

0:52:190:52:23

it just takes your breath away, really.

0:52:230:52:25

I mean, the main feeling that I wanted in coming into the room

0:52:270:52:32

was to give it a kind of temple quality,

0:52:320:52:36

that you are walking into a room that is depicting something that is

0:52:360:52:42

not necessarily of this time and place,

0:52:420:52:44

and that it's a place of worship in some ways,

0:52:440:52:48

but a place of joy and repose in other ways,

0:52:480:52:53

and that the tapestry is the main feature in the room,

0:52:530:52:58

but also is part of this narrative.

0:52:580:53:01

But it's important for me that it's not fixed,

0:53:010:53:03

that somehow the story's got lost in time and that we can bring our own

0:53:030:53:09

meanings to it, a bit like when you

0:53:090:53:11

go and visit ancient spaces elsewhere,

0:53:110:53:13

that you can understand it in terms of its power and what the meaning it

0:53:130:53:17

may have had in the past, but it's not so clear what that is now.

0:53:170:53:22

WOMAN: From afar, you can see all the colours but when you get close,

0:53:380:53:41

you can almost feel the movement of the tapestry,

0:53:410:53:44

you can see the expressions on the people's faces and it's just really

0:53:440:53:48

nice to be able to look and almost, like, wonder what they're thinking.

0:53:480:53:53

No matter how close you get to it, it's still... It's still a mystery.

0:53:580:54:02

Every one of these lines

0:54:020:54:05

is different. Yeah. Because these lines are charcoal and then these,

0:54:050:54:09

these areas here,

0:54:090:54:10

all like little flecks of charcoal

0:54:100:54:12

that's floating in the watercolour and then settle.

0:54:120:54:15

Some of the things for me that are arbitrary, for them

0:54:150:54:18

have to be absolutely deliberate

0:54:180:54:20

so the breaking up of a line of charcoal

0:54:200:54:22

when it's magnified - how many times they magnify it -

0:54:220:54:25

become other colours,

0:54:250:54:28

and they have to register everything.

0:54:280:54:30

And in their diligence, they create something completely other.

0:54:300:54:35

And that's where, I think,

0:54:350:54:36

in that gap of their intention and what they achieve,

0:54:360:54:40

that's where the magic occurs.

0:54:400:54:42

In the cloud, that really seems to be a sort of explosive, doesn't it?

0:54:430:54:47

That's what that feels like.

0:54:470:54:49

It feels like it's sort of out of control.

0:54:490:54:51

You can almost hear the rumble.

0:54:510:54:52

WOMAN: You've got that kind of lushness

0:54:540:54:57

but also, the sort of quite stormy skies.

0:54:570:55:00

Wonderful contrast.

0:55:000:55:02

Really special.

0:55:020:55:03

When I think of the world we inhabit, everyone will think,

0:55:070:55:10

"Oh, this was done digitally." Yeah.

0:55:100:55:12

Everyone will imagine this was done in that way and it wasn't,

0:55:120:55:14

it was done by hand over days and weeks and months and years.

0:55:140:55:19

I mean, that's what, oddly enough,

0:55:190:55:22

what makes it so mysterious and special.

0:55:220:55:24

I think so. I think something happens creatively when

0:55:240:55:28

human beings don't exclude their soul and spirit

0:55:280:55:31

in the making of something

0:55:310:55:33

and when it's over a long period of time,

0:55:330:55:35

I don't think you can exclude your soul and spirit and you see that

0:55:350:55:39

somehow, that will translate in the work.

0:55:390:55:42

I actually think it's quite an ancient approach,

0:55:420:55:44

because our relationship to time now is changing.

0:55:440:55:47

Our emphasis now is on doing things quickly,

0:55:470:55:50

rather than what happens when we do things slowly,

0:55:500:55:52

so I think in terms of making art, though,

0:55:520:55:56

when things are done slowly because they can't be done quickly,

0:55:560:56:00

we get something else.

0:56:000:56:02

Mr Christopher Ofili, for services to art.

0:56:110:56:15

While overseeing the installation of the exhibition,

0:56:170:56:21

Chris has also been honoured with a CBE.

0:56:210:56:23

This is about your role as a British artist,

0:56:260:56:30

an acknowledgement of what you've done.

0:56:300:56:32

How was that? Pretty quick.

0:56:320:56:33

But chatty.

0:56:350:56:36

I just wonder what he said to you.

0:56:380:56:39

You know, once you get anything like a CBE, certainly at that level,

0:56:390:56:43

you have to sign a Official Secrets Act,

0:56:430:56:47

and any conversations with a member of the Royal Family

0:56:470:56:50

falls within that bracket of the Official Secrets Act.

0:56:500:56:54

I can't discuss...

0:56:540:56:55

Oh, you fibber!

0:56:550:56:56

..what we...

0:56:560:56:58

we spoke about.

0:56:580:57:00

He was curious about this, that's coming on.

0:57:000:57:04

So I think he said he might try and take a look.

0:57:040:57:07

It's nice to be recognised for what you do,

0:57:070:57:09

especially if what you do is on your own terms.

0:57:090:57:11

I'm very much a product of the Empire.

0:57:110:57:13

My parents have a British passport as a result of coming from Nigeria.

0:57:130:57:19

And also, my children have British passports through birth but also

0:57:190:57:23

Trinidad was once part of the Empire.

0:57:230:57:26

So, in many ways, I understand that idea of the Empire -

0:57:260:57:30

although there are negative connotations,

0:57:300:57:32

there are also many positive ones.

0:57:320:57:34

It feels good to be a positive product of what we consider to be

0:57:340:57:39

the Empire. Here you are,

0:57:390:57:41

and I see you connected to this and to Trinidad and to Britain,

0:57:410:57:45

to Nigeria and all these other places.

0:57:450:57:48

But also you're connected to Titian and Goya and Rembrandt

0:57:480:57:53

and this great tradition of art and that's obviously important to you.

0:57:530:57:57

I think I would be the first lamb they would slaughter

0:57:570:57:59

if I was in amongst that lot, but... Well, you are amongst that lot.

0:57:590:58:02

They're next door. Yeah, yeah.

0:58:020:58:04

Actually, yeah. Actually it is a privilege to be...

0:58:040:58:07

..looked at by the same eyes, audience,

0:58:090:58:11

that has just looked at a Titian, and I'm happy that I'm not in the same room!

0:58:110:58:18

GUITARS PLAY

0:58:220:58:23

SHE SINGS IN HER OWN LANGUAGE

0:58:350:58:37

Welcome to The Mash Report!

0:59:310:59:33

Madonna has launched her own range of booted orphans.

0:59:330:59:36

Alan Yentob follows the celebrated Turner Prize-winning British artist Chris Ofili as he creates a spectacular contemporary tapestry - The Caged Bird's Song. Nearly three years in the making, it is a triumph of craft and dedication, transforming Ofili's free-flowing watercolour paintings into vibrant wool on a giant scale. Made with a team of master weavers in Edinburgh, the piece, over seven metres wide and three metres tall, draws together the sights and sounds of tropical Trinidad, where Ofili lives. Imagine explores Ofili's passion for his adopted island home and its inspiration on his creative practice, and reveals the final tapestry as it is installed in an exhibition at the National Gallery in London.