Tate Modern: Marlene Dumas 'The Image as Burden' (until 10th May 2015)
Upon entering the first of several divided, vaguely thematic rooms, we encounter Dumas' written work, which throughout the exhibition enhances and opens her paintings far more than curator insight alone could have hoped to achieve. Early on it is stated that the artist never paints directly from life, however it could be argued that she uses sensations and experiences from life as close inspiration. It is clear that she only paints subjects which she feels she has some level of affinity with, or at least which represent issues that are important to her. The first exhibited piece, 'Rejects' which takes up the entirety of the wall on which it is mounted, sets an immediately unnerving tone for the rest of 'The Image as Burden'. For the viewer this is always exciting and enticing, much like a cinematic experience. It is with 'Rejects' that we are able to establish Dumas' own uncertainty and creative flexibility surrounding her own subject matter, which wonderfully does not affect her distinctive painting style. The mugshot setup of this first collection of paintings feels similar to the classification system employed to devastating effect in Nazism; however instead of mere physicality, the viewer cannot help but access a deeper level of psychological analysis, such as the intense facial expressions, enhanced by the seamless melancholia of Dumas' painting style.
There is a violence in many of the paintings displayed within the exhibition which exceeds a simplistic, one-dimensional view of depicting war and conflict. 'Black Drawings', which is again reminiscent of classification diagrams, yet also a complex motif of repetition that occurs in 'The Image as Burden'. Like 'Great Men', which appears later in the show, we are presented with a selection of case studies within the single title of the piece. Although the people represented in each painting remain nameless, we are informed that the artist selected models from postcards of Africa and later contemporary images from Afro-American magazines, thus highlighting the lack of historical representation of African people in 'world history' references.
Image courtesy of Frith Street Gallery