Marlene Dumas

Kaapstad South-Africa 1953, lives and works in Amsterdam

The First People (I-IV)
oil on canvas
4 parts, each 181.5 x 90.5 cm

The work of Marlene Dumas deals with the tension between watching and being watched - and in fact - with the problem of interpretation. She often works after found images that she collects in a personal data-bank. The images reflect the social standards that influence our way of looking. For example in The First People from 1990, that exists of four life-size baby portraits. The dominating reaction on this work is that the babies are immensely ugly. The enlarged representation of their bodies is experienced as very shocking elements. These reactions seem to be influenced by cliché images of the happy babies from the commercial world, that seem to be the present day norm. The paintings of Dumas are very realistic just because of some imaginary elements like the extension of the bodies and the way she handles detail. ‘Motherhood is a shock,’ says Dumas, ‘because you haven’t realised how babies look in reality.’ Her work, The First People, perhaps represents some of that struggle.