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The Woman of Algiers

© Marlene Dumas. Photography by Peter Paul Geoffrion

The Woman of Algiers

Artist: Marlene Dumas (born in Cape Town, South Africa, 1953)
Culture: South African
Date: 2001
Medium: Oil on canvas
79 x 39 1/2 inches (200.7 x 100.3 cm)
Classification: Painting
Credit Line: Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Partial and promised gift of Blake Byrne, A.B.’57
Label Text:Woman of Algiers is based on a black and white photograph taken in 1960 recording the atrocities of the civil war in Algeria. The artist came across the photo in a Dutch newspaper in 2001 where it was published for the first time. The National Liberation Front launched the Algerian War of Independence to end French colonial rule and return control to the native Islamic Algerians. The civil war lasted from 1954 to 1962 and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

In this painting, two soldiers forcefully hold a young unidentified nude woman. The black censorship bars, inserted by the Dutch newspaper some forty years after the photo was taken, are reproduced by Dumas. She also crops the soldiers holding the woman, preventing the viewer from identifying them as either French or Algerian. The cultural identity of the woman is likewise uncertain; we cannot be sure if she is a member of the National Liberation Front or a French loyalist of European descent.

With identities unknown, the viewer’s attention focuses on the expressive brushwork and non-naturalistic colors that are characteristic of Dumas’s work. “I hope,” Dumas writes, “that the painting is different from and much more positive than its original source, an homage that would restore the dignity” of a victim of war. The artist transformed the documentary photograph into a painting that embodies the issues in which she is most interested: colonialism, racism, sexism, social injustice, and what she calls “the geography of politics.”

Object number: 2006.6.1
In Collection(s)