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Genetiese Heimwee



Marlene Dumas

Currently not on display
Acquired in 1985
Inventory number 1457

The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 3400 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.

If you need specific information on this work or artist, remember that the Van Abbemuseum Library is at your disposal, or feel free to write to the library.


The artist juxtaposes warm and cold colours to render a certain aggressiveness to this portrayal of a woman. The colours contrast with the penetrating yet empty gaze of the subject. Dumas uses the medium of painting for its expressive qualities. Here it is used to create tension between depiction and representation. The human figure gives the impression of being tormented, as if she is engaged in a struggle with herself. The macabre and ominous character of the painting helps it ‘invade the soul’ of the viewer.

Dumas’s work deals with the relationship between art and reality, intention and interpretation, the process of using language and images to convey meaning and to communicate. She portrays themes such as love, fear, cruelty and eroticism based on personal memories, emotions and experiences.

As with all of her paintings, this work has not been painted using a live model, but with a Polaroid that works as a kind of buffer between the artist and the subject. The emotions captured by Dumas are predominantly her own rather than those of the person being portrayed. Consequently, she has been able to effectively refute the persistent misconception that the portrait conveys the subject’s state of mind.


Queer perspective

This is a painting that could trigger all kinds of debate surrounding our free will, our agency and individuality. In fact, it is an attempt to discover how we are genetically coded beings whose behaviour should be considered in the light of evolution. From this perspective, the individual is seen as a very tiny cog in an extremely large machine in which they have virtually no control or agency. Are our personalities and emotions pre-determined? The division of emotional tension and personality is represented by the composed but cold, blue face and the red frustration and passion behind it.

%Another interpretation of this artwork could be about how we are programmed not by an individual genetic code but by a cultural one. This kind of genetic code binds us to our culture, creating certain patterns that generate culturally-coded yearnings, perhaps for a home or for a partner, or for a certain way of being. The culture in which we live today holds up a way of being to which we are assumed to aspire, a kind of predestined expectation which, like our genes, we didn’t necessarily choose for ourselves.

%Are there any counterarguments to this?

%>Tags: agency, embodiment, essentialism, normativity, social constructionism