A naked salmon-pink woman bends forward, inviting your gaze to between her legs while looking sensuously over her left shoulder. It’s ‘Miss Pompadour’, possibly Dumas’s best known piece. When it comes to nudity in paintings, we’re used to seeing a woman’s bare breasts, or between her legs — but not usually from behind. And even from this angle, it’s beautiful. After all, a woman does not only exist from the front.
Marlene Dumas: Blond curls dance around her ears, a sweet accent leaves her lips, and an eccentric smile warms her face. She was born in Cape Town but Amsterdam has been honored to be home to this talent since 1976. Personally, I consider her one of Holland’s greatest artists.
Thanks to the Stedelijk Museum, where a great deal of Dumas’ is currently being exhibited, I had the chance to see Miss Pompadour in person. On a Thursday morning I was the first visitor, eager to see the work of one of my favourite artists. The doors opened and my pace quickened as I followed the signs that read ‘Marlene Dumas’.
At this early hour, the museum was still quiet. As I left the noises of the already-bustling city behind for the stillness of Stedelijk’s halls, I felt like I was entering another world.
Once upstairs, I found myself in the middle of the exposition, confronted by dozens of black-and-white portraits. Alike only in their size and color, the faces reflected the spectrum of human emotions, from bliss to disappointment to anger. It felt like their mouths—and their eyes—were talking to me and suddenly I felt so small, like I was stepping further still away from reality.
As I walked further I noticed that each room seemed to be dedicated to a certain theme. Death. Babies. Sex. The feeling evoked by the black-and-white portraits lingered, and steadily increased: the feeling that another world existed behind the canvases of Marlene Dumas.
When I saw her painting named ‘Naomi’ I stood rooted to the spot, gazing into her eyes, hypnotized. The work is a rendering a Naomi Campbell, an English topmodel, posing with her head held high. Her eyes stare straight ahead, her lips closed. Dumas, known for her use of risky colors, painted Naomi’s face blue – and it suits her perfectly. Now I was certain: I wanted to belong to the world of Dumas, to live on the other side of the painting. As if only the canvas, paperthin, separated us.
I left the exhibition thinking that the next time I blow out candles on a cake or the ferns of a dandelion, I’ll know what to wish for: to have a Dumas on my own wall. And if that wish comes true, I’ll have another: that one day I’d be able to crawl through it, like Alice down the rabbit hole.
Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden can be viewed at the Stedelijk Museum until January 4 2015.