Scrutinizing Marlene Dumas exhibition titled The Image as Burden which opens in February till May at Tate Modern had not been an uplifting experience even if I tried to argue both ways. It felt like reading the papers from last month where all has been conferring with death, killings, sex, blood, racial conflicts, colonial aftermaths, female bodies and lots of female faces, almost to an entirely literal sense. There isn't one particularly disturbing painting but the disturbance is caused by the absence of signs of recovery. The repetition and reiteration of this Dionysian vision of predominantly lives of females nags and nags but what might light you up though is her techniques in painting which she claims to be an effort in giving “more attention to what the painting does to the image, not only to what the image does to the painting”. The materiality of painting is breath-takingly pronounced.
Born in 1953 in Cape Town, South Africa, Dumas saw fame in the Netherlands after moving and eventually settling there. The Image as Burden is however her first institutional show in the UK despite her international fame being one of the most prominent female painters of her time. To be more precise, Dumas is the most expensive female artist alive for her canvas The Victor having been sold for £3.1 million in 2005. A superficial level of textual analysis would surely amuse the most ignorant art fool. Assigning meanings and perceiving beyond the materiality don't work too well at Dumas's exhibition because it cheapens what the eyes can see. Many of the paintings are created based on photographs and large areas of the canvas are left unpainted, accentuating that every stroke had been a brush moving in friction with another material, and most importantly, being operated by a remarkable and lovely mind of a lady. Photographs however imbalanced are still, but paintings move, if not creep around.
The exhibition is not as enigmatic or as haunting as it is stunning. But importantly, this is an evidently gendered exhibition despite all its effort not to alienate, and it is beautiful. Highlight: Room 1: Rejects. A brain teaser as to work out who is being rejected. Can the wall of faces be re-arranged in different ways?
Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden opens from 5 February – 10 May 2015 at Tate Modern