Marlene Dumas is a figurative artist who presently paints on canvas with oil, ink, and watercolor. She is known for politically charged social art, often based on photographs taken by her or by others. Dumas, born in Cape Town, South Africa, lives and works in Amsterdam, where she moved in the late 1970s to study painting and psychology.
In 1975-1979, she used an abstract style in her paintings which dealt with apartheid in South Africa. In the mid-1980s her work continued the recurrent themes of racial and ethnic intolerance. One example is her chilling portrait “The White Disease” 1985, which shows an aging South African, blue-eyed white woman, taken from a medical photograph to which she added translucent white paint.
In the 1980s her portraits were done by wiping away thinned-down paint to create smudged figures. Her painting of her own mother, “My moeder voor sy my moeder was” (My mother before she became my mother), uses this same technique. Dumas writes about this painting, “My mother understood and loved nature. She taught me to trust in destiny. I never actually painted her while she was alive. Before her death in 2007 she once told me: ‘You never painted me when I was young, don’t paint me now that I am old’. I painted her after a photograph from her youth, as a young woman who did not know at that time that she would become a mother.”
Earlier exhibitions of her work were held in South Africa, Tokyo, and Marugame Japan. She has been the subject of many solo exhibitions in New York, Portugal, and Munich. Her work was presented in a retrospective at MOCA in 2008 and traveled to MoMA and the Menil Collection in 2009. She had a critically acclaimed 2014-2015 retrospective, “The Image as Burden,” presented at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Tate Modern in London, and the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, Switzerland. Dumas has been awarded the Hans Theo Richter Prize for Drawing and Graphic Arts by the Saxon Academy of the Arts. She will donate the prize money to a scholarship program for young artists. Her latest exhibition “Myths & Mortals” is at David Zwirner Gallery in New York through June 30, 2018.
Her work is in the permanent collections of major museums, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, LACMA, MOCA Tokyo, MoMA, Tate Gallery, and Frankfurt’s Museum fur Moderne Kunst.