Marlene Dumas

The influential South African painter Marlene Dumas is famous for her portraits, but interestingly, she doesn’t see them as portraits at all.

These paintings aren’t actually portraits. They were painted by South African artist Marlene Dumas.

When she lived in Amsterdam in the 1970s she painted women from the red light district. But Marlene soon began to question the ethics of her own paintings.

What does it mean to paint another person? What is the responsibility of the artist? 

Close up painting in black and white of a persons face

Rejects Detail, 1994

Close up painting in black and white of a woman's face

Super Model, 1995

These questions had been simmering her whole life.

Growing up as white person in apartheid South Africa, Marlene’s very existence was bound to violence and racism.

She could not ignore the violence of her home and so committed to producing political and affecting images. In her painting, she confronts life, head on. Art is intuitive, politics are vital.

But above all, her portraits are not people, but emotions.

A naked man holding a naked woman in his arms

The Image as Burden, 1993

Portrait of a family standing together

Nuclear Family, 2013

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