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Feb 05 - May 10

Tate Modern, Bankside SE1 9TG, London, , , Uk
  • Evil is Banal, 1984 © Marlene Dumas

  • The Image as Burden, 1993 © Marlene Dumas

  • Helena’s Dream, 2008 © Marlene Dumas


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Marlene Dumas’ “The Image as Burden” exhibition at Tate Modern

A new retrospective exhibition at the Tate Modern sheds light on the work of Marlene Dumas, one of the most important female painters of all times. Organized in conjunction with Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the exhibition features more than 200 drawings and paintings, from the 70’s to the present day. Titled “The Image as Burden”, it tracks Dumas’ intention to reinvent the codes of figurative painting, portraying at the same time the existential charge of life and the blurred lines between freedom and attachment, beauty and ugliness, cruelty and compassion, living and death. Her intense work explores themes like race, sexuality, gender, politics and the mass media, and carries such an emotional charge that leaves the spectator disarmed.

Dumas paints her portraits using photos taken by herself or coming from her extensive archive of newspapers and magazines, in an attempt to give a new meaning to the hundreds of images that bombard us daily, exploring the parallel realities and different psychological interpretations that are hidden behind them. Portraits of her daughter and herself, paintings of historical figures like Saint Lucy, Ulrike Meinhof of German Baader-Meinhof gang, director Pier Paolo Pasolini or Sigmund Freud’s wife, as well as famous faces like Amy Winehouse, Naomi Campbell and Princess Diana are spread around the different rooms of Tate Modern. Generating “first-hand emotions from secondhand images”, the artist takes a distance from her subjects, giving more attention to what the painting does to the image, rather than what the image does to the painting.

Born and raised in Kuilsrivier, a small town near Cape Town, the artist went to Holland in the 70’ to study at Ateliers ’63 in Haarlem and soon moved to Amsterdam, where she still lives and works. African colonialism is one of her recurring subjects, as seen in her Black Drawings, a series of colonial photographic portraits of black people from the early 20th century, often taken without the subject’s approval. By recontextualizing the images, Dumas intents to bring back the people’s stolen dignity, thus raising questions about the artist’s role and the transformative power of painting. Offering an intense and thought-provoking experience, Dumas’ retrospective is a definite must see.