Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas’ South African heritage is a key concept to her art work in relation to her white skin colour. Her work touches on racial politics, prostitution, the naked body, love and death. Dumas’ focus is on the depiction of people, drawn from found and taken photographs, newspapers, magazines and paintings. The decision not to draw from life means that she is able to manipulate the original photograph and make it her own with her imposed emotions and the narrative she chooses. “I use second-hand images and first-hand emotions” (found in Marlene Dumas Supercontemporanea – Illaria Bonacossa).

The racial segregation Marlene Dumas experienced while living in Africa has been very influential to her work. Using ink and watercolour, Dumas created a series of 110 drawings and one slate of portraits of black people using the black of the ink to reflect skin. Dumas set this piece out as a large minimalist grid, which brings each portrait closer together allowing for comparisons to be made. The portraits undermine the concept that race is the way to distinguish people into a group of commonality; instead Dumas is showing their individual identities through their physiognomy.


This piece, Black Drawings” (1991-92), is similar to the effect I’m trying to create; instead of challenging the views on race due to the apartheid, I am challenging the way people view themselves and other people around them and trying to show that each person has a number of Selves.


Jule-die Vrou 1985

This piece is a large-scale, close up portrait in oil- paint. The proximity of the face is extremely close, pushing the background out of the frame and leading your eyes directly to the facial features. The first thing I see every time I look at this piece are the prominent and piercing eyes, Dumas has manged to depict the model in a perfectly emotive way where the eyes feel like they have depth and a story. Dumas cleverly controls your eyes to lead them down the face from the lighter shaded nose to the plump lips and then to the suggestive placement of the finger. Whilst my eye travels down the face, I am very aware of the strong sense of warmth, passion, violence, strength, love that is created from the red tones that occupy the frame.

  • textured painting – scratchy like skin cells or the little lines that are seen
  • smoother on the lips and eyes, kind of making them easier to view also more realistic colours are on these two highlighting them
  • seductive and sensual, womanly .

As the isolation of a recognisable figure increases and the narrative character decreases (contrary to what one might initially assume that this lack of illustrative information would bring about), the interpretative effects are inflamed. The titles re-direct the work, however, they do not eradicate the inherent ambiguity. One cannot interpret the painting of Jule-die Vrou without entangling some of the root metaphors applied not only to the female, but to the idea of portrayal in general’. Marlene Dumas, 1992.


The passion.

Dumas used ink and watercolour to create this intimate moment of two people pressed against each other. The paint/ink is very diluted with clear marks where the colour has bled out of the place it was put. These marks give me a sense of passion in themselves, the water and the ink/paint are interlocking just like the two people depicted. The colours Dumas used are quite monochromatic but it is visible to see a slight tonal difference in the two faces; the upside down portrait is slightly blue in contrast to the upright portrait which has warmer tones and more flesh-like colouring.

  • if maybe- two lovers, upside down one is almost giving all their energy into the intamacy it has become cold and close to death- the other is sucking the life out of the person, but the upside down one is more vulnerable its upside down, vulnerable and besotted. the upright one has more control although the upside one is taking up more of the frame and features are more clearly discovered than the upright.
  • after reading the little information i could find, it says this piece is referring to religion and jesus is the blue face.


Het Kwaad is Banaal 1984 (Evil Is Banal)

This portrait is particularly interesting to view because it is a self-portrait of Dumas. It comprises of a very pale skin tone against an artificially yellow hair, the skin in some areas has blue tones which reminds me of pallor mortis

The name of this piece of work holds a lot of significance in terms of the context and how it is interpreted. The title comes from a book written by Hannah Arendt, a writer and philosopher. Arendt coined the term “the banality of evil” based on a man named Adolf Eichmann’s court trial (one of the major organisers in the Holocaust). Arendt was taken by the trial of Eichmann and the way in which the crimes were discussed. One of the legal judgements that were taking place during this trial was whether Eichmann had intention. This question stood out to Arendt and she interpreted having intention as having the capacity of reflective thoughts. In legal terms there was a challenge as to whether Eichmann needed to have intention in order to be convicted of the crime; Arendt wondered whether the national socialism had lead to new type of behaviour whereby people were acting without thinking about what it is they are implementing. This lack of thought and lack of reflection is what Arendt refers to as being ‘banal’. Arendt concluded that for this concept of banality to be present, the crimes against humanity must be committed in an accepted and regularised way. In the eyes of Arendt, Eichmann’s crime stemmed from his inability to objectively analyse the laws he was set and his inability to think for himself and for what the actions would cause.

“Evil is the failure to think”

After researching the title that Dumas has chosen, it doesn’t seem to directly relate to the self-portrait which is interesting. However, I do see a strong sense of thought in the portrait, almost as if Arendt’s book may have influenced her to analyse her own experiences of where she may not have thought or reflected when evil or cruelty may have occurred.

This portrait is unlike others because of the colours used, the hair in particular is very bright and emphasised as long with the pale skin. I seem to be drawn the right eye; the pink tones against the pale white skin and the glowing white markings in the eye. The skin colour and pink tones on the eye reflect the colours of typical Western white people, while the white glimmer makes me think the person is intently staring into the distance (when you are intently staring the eye can start to water producing more of a reflection). The blue tones on the face do remind me of the bluish colouring that occurs through death, but the hand that is adjoined to the face seems to be more grey/black than blue. The hand reminded me of the way Dumas paints black people, such as in Black Drawings 91-91. The dark hand and darker side of the face are on the same side- this gives me the impression of being split. Dumas has one side that is exaggerating the skin qualities of a white person while having a side that is darker (death, and similar way that she paints black people).

This piece makes me wonder whether Dumas is experiencing guilt and analysing her thought processes when she lived in South Africa- being a white person and seeing the way black people were treated.


One thought on “Marlene Dumas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s