Life, Death and the Spaces in between.

Marlene Dumas’ paintings echo through the exhibition space, and one can feel that this Amsterdam-based South African artist is a strong communicator of life, death and the spaces that-exist in between.

poster for Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas "Light and Dark 1987-2007"

at Gallery Koyanagi
in the Ginza, Marunouchi area
This event has ended - (2007-04-17 - 2007-06-16)

In Reviews by Meg Kaizu 2007-06-07

Her work is upfront in its portrayal of life and death; in the white canvases the faces and figures are vivid and clear and you can feel the heat of human existence. This is death that is neither romanticized nor feared but simply exists as a fact. In one corner of the gallery, life and death harmonize and melt into each other, creating a surprising but stunning interpretation of living.

The Fog of War (2006) is a beautiful series of ink gesture digital prints accompanied by a poem. Each line of her poem is imbued with the bleakness of her outlook: feelings of melancholy, anguish, sorrow and pain. This work, together with her poem, brings audiences to the psychological space to contemplate on the issues of war, death, justice, reason, dreams, hopes, ideals and reality. Faced with the death of human beings in war, she is honest in her handling of war’s effect of life – the questions of why we have to live and die – and she invites us to question our purpose as human beings.

In Kissing (2001) she achieves a sense of delicacy and lightness through her use of color and blending of shapes. The sense of movement in the work eloquently describes moments of love and affection, excitement, warmth, simplicity and naiveté – it captures a fleeting instant in a time of romance and the gentle flame therein.

Marlene Dumas, 'Light and Dark' (1990-2000), 20 x 25cm, Oil on Canvas.

Dumas uses a different type of visual language in Light and Dark, a work that is composed of powerful colors and a strong contrast of dark and light. There is weight and heaviness in the movement of the female figure depicted, and her body language communicates what she might be feeling. The work is heavy with silence and filled with unknowns. Viewers can relate to these moments of waiting, expecting and enduring. Maybe it is Dumas herself in the painting, there alone, enduring.

The far end of the gallery is dominated by a set of works made with death as its theme. Canary Death (2003) is a beautiful piece that features a white cadaver. While audiences can clearly feel the beauty of the painting, it is still unsettling to see a painting of a dead body in a public space like a gallery. Mystery surrounds the cause and manner of the person’s death – each viewer’s imagination will conjure up a different scenario for the depicted person’s death and they will all inevitably wonder what this death means to them. To Dream or Not to Dream (2006) has a similar quality to it: it is unclear whether the woman in the painting is alive or dead. If she is alive, what do her peculiar facial expressions suggest she is dreaming? If she is dead, her dreams would have reached their end. Similarly, the The Death of Ideology (2003) is a close-up of a dead face, and its expression and color make one wonder what it is that has died – what ideology was it that came to an end?

Meg Kaizu

Meg Kaizu. Meg studied Art and Arts Management in Eugene Oregon. In addition to Tokyo Art Beat, her articles have appeared in magazines such as Being A Broad, Metropolis, PingMag and Whitehot Magazine. You can contact her at: mkaizu [at] gmail [dot] com » See other writings


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