"The public display of nudity has always been one of my main artistic interests, as well as the reasons given to justify or banish it. The traditional (male) painter uses it to promote higher aesthetic values, the fashion model uses it to promote clothes, the porn industry to promote masturbation, while film stars only do it if it's part of the story. Most people don't do it at all and the teaser makes you beg for it."
(M. Dumas in Stripping Girls, Amsterdam, 2000)
Between 1998 through 2000, Marlene Dumas, in collaboration with the photographer Anton Corbijn, worked on a project called Stripping Girls, which took the strip clubs and peep shows of Amsterdam as their subject. Intent on revealing the truth behind the pervasive (and legalized) sex industry in her hometown, Dumas took an unflinching stance towards her subjects that did not romanticize or glamorize them. Instead, she revealed their raw essence, as vehicles of desire and centers of vulnerability. Painting from Polaroid photographs that she herself has taken or from mass media imagery, Dumas transforms objective reality through her own subjective vision.
The stripper featured in Feathered Stola coyly covers her genitalia with the eponymous feather stole, even as she thrusts her pelvis at the viewer. She is fully aware of her powers of seduction but remains self-possessed. Dumas forces the viewer to stare at her luscious subject made all the more flavorful by her loose handling, fleshy pinks and tactile surface.
Dumas is a modern-day incarnation of 19th-century French painters such as Eduoard Manet, Edgar Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec who took refuge in dance halls and painted its entertainers. Yet, as a woman, she seems to find empathy with her subjects and does not allow the viewer the comfort of pure voyeurism. Rather, she entraps her viewer between a position of empathy and desire. Her voluptuous ability renders it is an entirely voluntary imprisonment.