Translucent, dark faces haunt the walls of the former Bankside Power Station, today recognised as the mammoth Tate Modern. These faces gather united in their gaze, intensely humanising the bare walls of Tate’s exhibition space to form Marlene Dumas’s current display: The Image as Burden.
Dumas’s exhibition establishes itself as rough retrospective of her career as an artist. The vast, thought-provoking display considers her talent, power and influence as a painter in the contemporary – definitely a must-see in London this spring.
Having not seen much of Dumas’s practice, I wandered into the exhibition wide-eyed and eager to see what the buzz in the press was all about, and I was not disappointed. Her paintings have a personality to them; their eyes follow your step as you slowly move through the gallery, their seemingly impassive faces and subtle smirks unsettle you and provoke a sense of the uncanny throughout the exhibition space. Drawn or painted from found photographs, Dumas never paints from real life. This fact certainly changes the way one might view her work, adorning her practice that much more for her ability to re-humanise individuals from digital shapes to emotive, physical works of art. She often manifests controversial social and cultural themes in her work, focusing on race, sexuality and death. These narratives provide depth to each portrait, evoking powerful responses within the viewers of the work.
There were several highlights in the exhibition which particularly stood out to me. The Rejects (1994-2014) populate the first wall of the exhibition, confronting visitors head-on with their sinister looks and thick headed outlines. These works are intended to display Dumas’s exploration into ideas of artistic process of selection, and show the different ways in which individuals are reformed and represented in the contemporary. In Room 7, her pairing of her paintings depicting Naomi Campbell and Princess Diana bring about complex questions of race, class and femininity in Great Britain, and proves to work well both aesthetically and academically.
Dumas’s nudes are predominantly arresting. The long thin canvases work to prevent distraction from anything other than the subject, and the subject itself poses to hold viewers gaze for a prolonged moment. The artist’s use of colour in these pieces works gloriously: the slight blue tints blending into purple and sickly dark black morphs Dumas’s models into menacing, unhuman characters. The Painter (1994) is particularly ominous, with a young unclothed girl who is covered only by paint on her creative young hands. Her eyes are dark and her face pale, she becomes a phantom like figure lingering amid Dumas’s blockbuster show.
Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden is on at Tate Modern until the 10 May. Having just opened, I recommend you see it now so as to fit in a second visit before it closes in late spring!