Stedelijk Museum acquires Osama by Marlene Dumas
12 Sep 2012

The Stedelijk Museum has acquired a key piece by Netherlands-based artist Marlene Dumas. The painting, titled Osama (2010), is an important addition to the collection, which already includes 35 paintings and drawings by Dumas. Starting from 23 September with the Stedelijk’s grand reopening, the new acquisition will be on display in a gallery dedicated to the work of this world-renowned artist.

Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas (b. Cape Town, 1953) is considered one of the most influential artists working today. She is known for her exploration of the relationship between reality and its representation in the mass media and often bases her portraits on newspaper and magazine photographs or images from her immense visual archive. The artist believes that the endless stream of photographic images that bombards us every day influences how we see each other and the world around us. Dumas addresses this onslaught by revealing psychological, social, and political aspects of these images in her paintings and drawings. Her work literally and metaphorically gives another face to the reality we believe we know through the mass media.

This effect is evident in Dumas’s 2010 painting of Osama Bin Laden. With an expressive use of color, Dumas depicts the al-Qaida leader with soft, almost feminine features that challenge the cliché of the hardened terrorist, setting up an uncomfortable mixture of repulsion and attraction. Marlene Dumas says about 'Osama': “The relationship between image and text is very important to me. Would this painting still intrigue us if we didn’t know its title?”

Displayed prominently in a gallery located on the second floor of the Stedelijk’s historic 1895 building, Osama is flanked by two other highlights from the artist’s wide-ranging oeuvre: 'Martha, Sigmund’s Wife' (1984) and the series of drawings 'Young Men', produced between 2002 and 2005. Here, Dumas portrays twelve men with “Arabic” features —among them suicide bombers and freedom fighters, as well as young males from Dumas’s neighborhood in Amsterdam. An outpouring of negative media coverage, particularly after 9/11, linked people of Mediterranean appearance to threat, danger, and racial tension in the public imagination. Dumas’s sensitive portrayals of individuals associated with a feared group confront viewers with their own prejudices and preconceptions, offering an indirect commentary on the insecurities and stereotypes pervading our society.

Stedelijk Museum director Ann Goldstein said: “We are very proud to add this iconic work to our collection. Dumas explores an incredibly difficult subject in this complex and indelible painting. This work, like all of her paintings, ultimately confronts us with ourselves, and how we look at others through the lens of the media. But Dumas's work is much more than the subject matter; it is powerful and compelling, and uncomfortably so, because of the way she has addressed her subjects in the discourse of painting. You cannot look at this painting without experiencing a profound sense of discomfort. The piece is at once impossible and fascinating; and utterly unforgettable.”