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Marlene Dumas

The Woman of Algiers

2001

Marlene Dumas’s work explores a range of human emotion while reflecting on social and political attitudes toward women, children, people of color, and others who historically have been victimized. The Woman of Algiers’s composition is based on a photograph that appeared in the French newspaper L’Express; a naked woman is restrained by men on either side of her, her breasts and pubic area obscured by censor bars that evoke the socio-representational conventions of Dumas’s source material while also suggesting the rectangular forms of Mark Rothko. The title references work by artists including Pablo Picasso in which the subject is depicted as the exotic Other. In this way, Dumas questions the relationship of social history to the history of art.

Marlene Dumas (b. 1953, Cape Town; lives and works in Amsterdam)
The Woman of Algiers, 2001
Oil on canvas
78 3/4 x 39 1/2 in.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, partial and promised gift of Blake Byrne

I am dealing with emotions that everyone feels. But I’m always conscious of this tension between knowing that you are making an object, a physical thing, and being aware that you are also referring to things [the emotions] that cannot actually be painted. If the painting works, that tension is in there. —Marlene Dumas