Home Magazine Marlene Dumas

Racism, apartheid, identity, love, death, perversion, religion, madness. A profound research surrounding the human figure and its erotic potential; its provocative energy. A dive into the endless stream of images to which the human eye is subject to, putting before us a glance of what defines and interferes with the perception of ourselves and the way we interpret the world.

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Marlene Dumas, The Widow, 2013. Oil on canvas (2 parts).


South African painter Marlene Dumas stands as a powerful and influential persona in todays art world, with an aesthetic research that aims to create awareness regarding the potential of the viewer’s subjectivity and the incredible amount of interpretations that can generate from the observation of the human figure. Dumas is introspective, psychological, political and intimate. Her style brings forward a mixture of both expressionism and conceptualism, generating concurrently a sense of expressive involvement and conceptual detachment. Her subjects dominate the canvas’ two-dimensional space and are filled with provocative and irreverent energy, which is enhanced further by the artist’s quick and courageous brush strokes. These figures are eradicated from their social provenances and represented in all of their seductive and mysterious appearance and are referential and related to mass culture, photographs or iconic pre-existing images, before being transposed and reinterpreted by the freedom of the artistic gesture. Marlene Dumas manipulates her subjects to diminish the importance of their social provenance and give them new life as emblematic and essential examples of the inadequacy of social structures in contemporary society. In Dumas’ paintings and portraits, the mad ones resemble the sane ones, the sane ones have experienced madness. They both try to impress the viewer while creating a sense of seduction, in a scenario generating equality rather than social distinction. 



From left to right:Marlene Dumas, No belt. Oil on canvas; Marlene Dumas, Missing Picasso, 2013. Oil on canvas.

“I treat faces with a certain equality. I use any trick I can to attract attention; the eyes that stare at you directly, sexual element indecently exposed or deliberately covered… The power of primitive attraction that generates from recognition; the image that prostitutes itself. You find yourself obliged to say “yes” or “no”.

Marlene Dumas paintings appear as portraits at first sight, but the deeper the viewer dives into the expressiveness that the images discloses, the more the observer lets himself go into the tricks that these figures put in act, the clearer the objective becomes. These canvases are not simply a figurative research, they do not represent people, but instead an emotional state these people could be in. Themes such as guilt and innocence, or violence and tenderness, are disclosed by the clever and mature representation of a child, a mother, a friend or even a political figure. What Dumas enacts is a moment of confrontation, a moment in which one should allow his soul to reach contact with the depths of those staring eyes painted and put before him. 

In a contemporary art world, where conceptualism and demagogy are creating aesthetic and social distancing, or detachment, painters like Marlene Dumas use their violent brush and freedom to reach distortion and open a time frame in which Romanticism and powerful expressiveness are once again able to exist. 


Marlene Dumas, The Widow, 2013. Oil on canvas (2 parts).

Cover image: Marlene Dumas, Wall Wailing, 2009. Oil on canvas.

Written by Mario Rodolfo Silva


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