Whilst Marlene Dumas is considered one of the most prominent painters of her generation, she also remains relatively unknown to the general public. However, the artist’s profile is certain to be raised by Tate Modern’s large-scale survey which is the most significant exhibition of her work ever to be held in Europe, charting her career from the early 1970s to the present. The show brings together over 100 of her most important and iconic paintings and drawings, her experimental collaged works and her most recent canvases.
Born in 1953 in Cape Town, South Africa, Dumas moved to the Netherlands in 1976, where she came to prominence in the mid-1980s. Her intense, psychologically charged works explore themes of sexuality, love, death and shame, often referencing art history, popular culture and current affairs.
The title of the exhibition is taken from The Image as Burden 1993, a small painting depicting one figure carrying another. In many ways this is the theme of many of Dumas’s works, she never paints directly from life but works from images from other media especially photographs. Many of the images are torn from newspapers and magazines and represent a particular image, Dumas takes the image as a starting point and then creates her own narrative around it.
Her subjects are drawn from a wide range of public and personal references and include her daughter and herself, as well as recognisable faces such as Amy Winehouse, Naomi Campbell and Princess Diana. The results are often quite disturbing creating grotesque representations of the human figure stripped of their more usual persona.
Being South African by birth, it is perhaps natural that Dumas’s portraits of Black people are given a particular emphasis, however this underplays the complexity and ambiguity of her approach.
Some of her work is openly political, she recently was shown at an exhibition in Russia and included a series of portraits of notable homosexual men from the 19th and 20th century, many who were persecuted for their sexual preference.
Her paintings about the Middle East may be seen as political statements but many deal with more universal themes such as death. loss and tragedy.
In the late 1990s, Dumas explored the naked figure in a variety of poses, some of the more pornographic images show how the artist plays with the viewers perceptions. In the picture, Fingers 1999, the explicit pose shows no female genitalia at all.
A series of paintings entitled For Whom the Bell Tolls deals with loss and in part was a response to the death of her mother in 2007. Here a number of well-known faces and images show grief in all its guises, in one of the paintings, Ingrid Bergman stares tearfully into the distance.
The exhibition covers the whole of Marlene Dumas’s career and shows the whole range of works from the 1970s to the present day. What will surprise many people is that the artist is not more widely known, her interesting and intriguing body of work deserves a wider audience.
This exhibition offers an opportunity for many to become acquainted with Dumas’s work and consider her position as one of the most prominent painters of her generation.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or to book tickets, visit the Tate Modern website here
Marlene Dumas – Tate Modern: Exhibition
5 February – 10 May 2015
Adult £16.00 (without donation £14.50)
Concession £14.00 (without donation £12.70)
No booking fees with this exhibition
Under 12s go free (up to four per parent or guardian). Family tickets available by telephone or in the gallery.
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