Black Shunga is a suite of eleven erotic line etchings printed on specially prepared paper with a dark blue color-shifting metallic surface. The title derives from a Japanese word for erotic art (shunga), a style that peaked in the Edo period (1603-1867) and was produced using the ukiyo-e woodblock tradition. Eventually suppressed by the Japanese government for their explicit sexual nature, the production and collecting of shunga prints thrived in the underground marketplace. Taking their cue from Ofili’s Blue Rider paintings (2005-2014), these twilight blue etchings reveal themselves slowly. Upon close inspection, fine lines emerge from the darkness, depicting two figures engaged in dreamlike fantasies of sexual activity and artistic creativity. Impossible to photograph accurately, the prints demand active and concentrated looking.
In the catalogue for Ofili’s museum survey exhibition Night and Day (New Museum, New York and The Aspen Art Museum), artist Glenn Ligon says of Ofili’s blue paintings:
"While they touch on familiar themes in Ofili’s oeuvre - spirituality, eroticism, nature, history, and myth - their extravagant blueness threatens to overwhelm any given set of motifs or concerns. There is a powerful mood expressed in the canvases, although they are not moody, for they possess the exuberance that characterizes all of Ofili’s work; he could not make joyless paintings about being blue.