Among the Obama Administration, the United Nations, and the Middle East Quartet, Israel has taken its share of lumps lately. But last week a brickbat came from an unexpected source: the highly-successful South Africa-born artist Marlene Dumas.
Dumas, the 56-year-old subject of a retrospective shown at both L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art and New York’s Museum of Modern Art two years ago, is now exhibiting a new body of work titled “Against the Wall” at the David Zwirner Gallery complex in Manhattan’s Chelsea. The show and its handsome catalogue, which features a number of paintings centered on Israel’s security fence, is a visual and verbal polemic against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Dumas has never visited Israel. Instead, she relied on photographs clipped from newspapers and magazines to limn her portrait. This led to strange choices, chief among them two large paintings, Wall Weeping and Wall Wailing, which show Arabs lined up at gunpoint, Jack Bauer-style, against Jerusalem’s Western Wall. When, one wonders, would Israeli soldiers do such a thing? It turns out that the image has been based on a photograph shot in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War that Dumas found in Time magazine.
The entire show depends on the assumption that Israel—despite, or maybe even because of, its religious character—practices apartheid. “White South Africa used the Bible more than all of the time,” Dumas writes. “Everybody used it to justify anything. Love your neighbors but pray that you don’t have to touch them.”
Earlier in her essay she writes: “At this stage of my life, I paint the pictures and then I read the books.”
The best advice we can offer is that she reverse the practice.