During a few days over Christmas in Amsterdam friends took me on a culture trail, including a retrospective exhibition of works by Marlene Dumas, titled – The Image as a Burden – in the Stedelijk Museum.
A wall build of faces, a collection of close-ups, done in rapid strokes of ink, dislocated in their white squares, but for the eyes that gaze and mirror the viewer, eyes that convey the familiar moods of the human situation, flawed and uncertain, known intimately inside every heart around the world.
A theme of dislocated, suspended identities, with seemingly no place to hide, shuffled like playing cards. And yet, their missing context conceals stories … like the wide gap between the opening and closing phrases of personal letters in this early image on the left: ‘Don’t talk to strangers.’
I pondered the title of the exhibition – The Image as a Burden – and thought how we personally relate to images. What they evoke may home or clash inside of us, or, equally, home or clash with a multitude of perceptions other people have, pushing us again and again through a psychological birth canal, ever new encounters with the beginning of life, with desire, loss, death and grief.
Dumas’ paintings seem to hover above a threshold, between extremes, confronting with the uncomfortable truth of our vulnerability. The images provoke, disturb, repel, and also deeply move. Her sources are second hand, mainly from a huge archive of photographic snapshots and prints she continuously collects from magazines and newspapers.
In her words … my paintings are closer to the world of spirits and angels, daydreams, and nightmares than that of real people on the street.
Private collectors are said to have a strange emotional attachment to her work. Once purchased (at astronomical prices) they find it difficult to let them go. Why is that?
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Marlene Dumas was born in 1953, in Cape Town, where she did a Fine Arts degree. In the 1970s she came to the Netherlands on a scholarship and since settled in Amsterdam.
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The show is moving to London’s Tate Modern in January.