Marlene Dumas

(b. 1953)

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(1953– )

South African artist, born in Cape Town. She studied fine art at the University of Cape Town, graduating in 1975. In 1979 she went to the Netherlands to study psychology and has since lived and worked in Amsterdam. She is known for freely painted images, especially of children, which have an uncanny and unsettling quality, as in her series of paintings of babies entitled The First People (1991). Her imagery is usually taken from photographs, sometimes the artist's own, sometimes culled from newspapers and magazines. She has recalled that while at art school she was drawn to photography ‘because it was closer to “real life”…When I started to embrace the ambiguity of the image, and accepted the realisation that the image can only come to life through the viewer looking at it, and that it takes on meaning through the process of looking, I began to accept painting for what it was.’ She points out that if photography, as Picasso told Brassaï, had ‘liberated painting from the subject’, it had also freed the painter from responsibility for it. Anything could be painted without permission from or negotiation with the subject. The disquieting sense of exposure which is sensed in her paintings of the nude, such as the series of Magdalena (1996, Tate), can be related to this. This kind of distance from the subject paradoxically lends force to her paintings of blindfolded Palestinian prisoners or a painting such as Frisked (2006), based on a detail of a news photograph of an aged Afghan tribesman being searched.

Further Reading

Arts Council of England, The Painting of Modern Life (2007)D. Boegard, Marlene Dumas (1999)

Subjects: Art.

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