Tate Modern hosts SA-born Dumas

5 February 2015

The Tate Modern in London is hosting a retrospective exhibition for South African-born painter Marlene Dumas.

The exhibition, titled The Image as Burden and made up of more than 100 paintings and drawings, opened on 5 February and will run until 10 May. It was curated by Helen Sainsbury.

In 2005, Dumas’ painting The Victor sold for £3.1-million, making her the most expensive living female artist in the world.

Dumas was born in Kuilsriver in 1953. After studying at UCT’s Michaelis Art School, she left South Africa in 1976 on a scholarship to study at the Atelier ’63 in Haarlem, Holland, and nearly four decades later, she still lives in the country’s capital, Amsterdam.

In 2008, Dumas returned to South Africa where the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg hosted her first solo exhibition in the country.

Dumas creates paintings from photographs. Her subject matter ranges from “monstrous newborns and terrorists to murdered children and bodies in morgues”, the Telegraph’s Alistair Smart writes in his review of the show.

“So what can they expect? Well, perhaps it’s easier to say what not to expect: a barrel of laughs. In the joy and jubilation stakes, this is about as far removed as it gets from Matisse’s cut-outs, on show at Tate last year.”

The Image as Burden by Marlene Dumas
The Image as Burden 1993 (Image: Marlene Dumas)

Dumas work grapples with themes around life and death, politics, sexuality, race, gender, colonialism, and the role of the media and celebrity in modern life.

The exhibition is the most significant exhibition of her work ever to be held in Europe, charting her career from early works, through seminal paintings to new works on paper, the Tate says on its website.

The title of the exhibition is taken from The Image as Burden 1993, a small painting depicting one figure carrying another.

She has painted portaits of Princess Diana, Amy Winehouse, Phil Spector and Bin Laden. There are scenes from Amsterdam’s sex clubs and rural South Africa.

In one of her texts on the wall of the gallery, Dumas writes: “I could say South Africa is my content.” But, as Ben Luke writes in the Evening Standard, she doesn’t mean this literally – “rather, I think, that this conflicted, troubling background led to conflicted, troubling art.”

SAinfo reporter