In the late eighties and early nineties Dumas developed her concerns about viewers’ insistence on establishing clear meanings in artworks. In a series of small, intimate paintings, the figure of the nude takes on an allegorical function, often in relation to politics and as a commentary on art itself.
During this time the system of apartheid in South Africa was gradually being dismantled, with the first general election where all races were permitted to vote taking place in 1994. Many of the works in this room negotiate ideas about democracy, desire and the vulnerability of the public, pairing ambiguous imagery with suggestive titles. Through their texture, these works also encourage the viewer to be aware of the specificity of painting as a medium, and the corporeal relationship to its subject matter, Dumas writing that,
painting is about the trace of the human touch. It is about the skin of a surface. A painting is not a postcard.
In The Image as Burden 1993, Dumas transforms a film still from Camille (1936) showing the dying heroine carried by her lover to symbolise Dumas’s own relation to her source imagery: the challenge of working with an image that becomes an artwork, as well as the intimacy involved in the process of creation, and perhaps even the artist collapsing under her own public image.
There is a crisis with regard to Representation.
They are looking for Meaning as if it was a thing.
As if it was a girl, required to take her panties off
as if she would want to do so, as soon as
the true interpreter comes along.
As if there was something to take off.
Marlene Dumas The Artwork as Misunderstanding 1991