Mamma Roma, 2012 by Marlene Dumas: Fondazione Stelline, Milan (2012)

This tiny painting lured me forward from the back of a long, white sun-filled gallery in May 2012. I had flown to Milan with my sister especially for ‘Sorte’, a solo show by Marlene Dumas at Fondazione Stelline. In a room full of large paintings, the small yet powerful Mamma Roma stood out immediately. 

From a distance, there is a face with eyes clamped shut and mouth wide open mid-scream. Moving closer, you notice the watery precision of Marlene Dumas’ gestures, which continually fills me with wonder. Closer still, colour begins to emerge from the black and grey; smears of blue are set off by a dot of peachy orange on the nose. And then, when right up against the painting, it’s the texture of the canvas that comes through, making you realise how thin and turpsy are the layers of Dumas’ paint.

The exhibition featured twenty works, fifteen of which were created specifically in response to the Fondazione Stelline, which was a former orphanage. Mamma Roma, however, is based on a photo of Italian actress Anna Magnani, who starred in a 1962 film of the same title.

I have traveled to many countries in Europe to see Marlene Dumas’ work because I can always learn so much from it. I was even lucky enough to have met her in Paris in 2009, where she signed one of her books for me with ‘to lots of good love and paintings’. After the recent touring of her major retrospective, ‘The Image As A Burden’, I’m not certain when next Mamma Roma will be shown. However, it is absolutely worth looking out for. 

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