Marlene Dumas: The Image as a Burden

Tate Modern is hosting Marlene Dumas: The Image as a Burden, a comprehensive exhibition of the celebrated South African painter, after its stint at the Stedelijk in the Netherlands, where the painter lives, earlier this year. The sexagenarian produces psychologically charged works that explore topics such as sexuality, love, death, and shame, often referencing art history, popular culture, and current affairs.

This retrospective survey of Dumas’ work presents a compelling overview of her oeuvre from the late 1970s to the present. In addition to her most iconic works, the exhibition also presents lesser-known paintings and drawings. The show takes its name from her 1993 painting, The Image  as a Burden (above). This small work depicts one figure carrying another and refers to the conflict between the act of painting and the illusion produced by the painted image. As with many of the artist’s works, the choice of title profoundly affects the audience’s interpretation of the work. For Dumas it is important “to give more attention to what the painting does to the image, not only to what the image does to the painting.”

Marlene Dumas_Helena's Dream

Dumas depicts her daughter in “Helena’s Dream,” 2008 © Marlene Dumas, photo: Peter Cox

Although Dumas doesn’t paint directly from life, her works are nonetheless complex and rich. “Secondhand images,” she has says, “can generate first-hand emotions.” Her subjects range from the personal (herself, her daughter) to the public. She has painted famous faces such as Amy Winehouse (below), Naomi Campbell, Princess Diana, and Osama bin Laden, and “the results are often intimate and at times controversial, where politics become erotic and portraits become political. She plays with the imagination of her viewers, their preconceptions, and fears.”

Marlene Dumas_Amy

Marlene Dumas, “Amy – Blue,” 2011, National Portrait Gallery, London © Marlene Dumas, photo: Peter Cox

Marlene Dumas_Evil is Banal

Marlene Dumas, “Evil is Banal,” 1984, Collection Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, © Marlene Dumas, photo credit: Peter Cox, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Marlene Dumas_The Widow

Marlene Dumas, “The Widow,” 2013, Private Collection © Marlene Dumas

The exhibition continues until May 10, 2015. 

Title image source: Marlene Dumas, The Image as Burden, 1993, private collection © Marlene Dumas

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