Marlene Dumas

Natasja in Wonderland

Marlene Dumas on Natasja Kensmil

 Sometimes when you dream, you know that you are almost awake and dawn is on its way, and yet you get stuck in a nightmare that keeps on repeating itself. Images of different times spinning around your head in a frenzy, forcing you to go through endless labyrinths of the past, sometimes dressed-up as the future. Or is it the other way around? Gothic versions of stories you’ve once read somewhere, pictures you saw or tales you’ve been told in the dark.

Sometimes you are too scared to go to sleep because you get scared of dying. Other times for fear that those you love might disappear or be taken away while you’re asleep, or that something ‘bad’ might befall them, if you fall asleep. Or just the fear of going mad. You don’t know anymore what is outer or inner space, clouds pass through and across. Watch out, the cathedral is flat. A film set from a horror movie could fall on you. You are walking through a haunted house in a bewitched landscape. Lines turn into lace. You are in the land of Kensmil.

Whose history is this? What time is it? Victorian times…? Histories like ancestors never die. Alice in Wonderland was written in 1865. In 1863 slavery was abolished in the Dutch colony Suriname. This year we celebrated 150 years of Keti-Koti (the chains have been broken!) In 1863 Edvard Munch was born. His father viewed art (rightly so, I’d say) as an ‘unholy trade’. He painted alienation and silent screams. Natasha paints silence with noisy scenes. Listen to the sounds of the dead dancing, the rattling of the bones, the music they make.

I recently heard someone quote the German director Werner Herzog. He was filming in the South American jungle in 1982 and was asked to comment on the beauty of the nature around him, ‘Ze birds are in misery. I don’t zink zey zing, zey just screech in pain.’

And then there is this fragment from the story of the Brothers Grimm, The Juniper Tree, ‘A bird rises up from a mysterious fire that appears in the tree, like a mist and sings, ‘My mother she killed me. My father he ate me. My sister Marlinchen, she gathered up my bones. Tweet, tweet, what a lovely bird I am!’

We are inside, The Crying Light.

Natasja Kensmil | Natasja in Wonderland. First published in The Crying Light, (cat.), Royal Hibernian Academy Dublin, 2013, p.9; and included in Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts | On Others, second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014.