South Africa, 1953
In 1953 Marlene Dumas was born into a Cape Town family that owned a local winery. After earning a degree in Fine Arts, she won a scholarship that allowed her to settle in Amsterdam in 1976. She has lived in the city since then and tends to be considered a Dutch artist. Her first language was Afrikaans, and being a member of the white minority in South Africa during the apartheid era led her to adopt a highly critical attitude towards racism, which she has brought to her work as an artist. Painting and drawing are the media she uses to focus on the human figure. Drawing inspiration from photographs—whether shots she has taken herself or images published in newspapers and magazines—she has created a universe of bodies and faces that she captures with a powerful line and highly expressive gesture. In some of her series, her approach to the human figure is characterised by a certain distance or neutrality (in her portraits, for example); in others she reproduces scenes with an extraordinarily dense narrative texture. Bodies and faces appear roughly outlined, but despite their lack of detail these images always achieve a powerful presence. Over the course of nearly four decades, Dumas has shown that painting remains a useful tool for representing the world, reflecting on the role of art, and raising questions of profound social significance. Nevertheless, the private sphere is a constant in her work, which adopts a perspective in which the individual—the events that affect each human being—intersects with the collective. The artist explores feelings and contradictions of a psychological nature, delving into the experience of motherhood, childhood, sexuality, old age and death; in short, the satisfactions, fears and difficulties of existence. She also tackles injustice, sexual slavery, child abuse and social conventions, and investigates ways in which ‘femininity’ and ‘the feminine’ have been represented—through the male gaze—over the centuries. She manages to capture joyful and traumatic experiences on her canvas or paper in a language that is not easy on viewers, who are drawn into her disturbing and sometimes dark narratives. Marlene Dumas is an important figure on the international art scene. She participated in Documenta 7, Documenta 9 and the São Paulo Biennial (1985), and represented the Netherlands at the Venice Biennale in 1995. Her work has been the subject of major exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, the Musée National d’Art Moderne, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa in Venice, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work is held in the collections of the Tate Modern in London, the MoMA in New York, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt, and other leading museums. In recent years, Dumas’s work has sold for higher prices than that of any other female artist.