From 2002–2007 artist Marlene Dumas
realized a series of portraiture works in the mediums of painting and drawing that destabilize the meaning of the term “mankind.” Young men are featured, coming across as strangely, acutely familiar. Let’s remind ourselves that the years in which these works were made were some of the peak years of recent terrorist attacks, paralleled in intensity by the US and its allies’ war against the “axis of evil.” The images of bearded young Muslim men of “Mediterranean appearance” have since become commonplace in western media, teasing out fears, suspicions, and prejudices through insistent stereotyping of the “dangerous subject” that is the radical extremist in our midst. If Dumas has doubts about humanity in our age, however, then it is directed not quite at the pictured martyrs, but rather at the viewer readily accepting the ungrounded claims of such derogatory imagery. The artist confronts us with how deep we have fallen into this media-driven engineering of anxiety and hatred as we are prepared to project the stereotypical xenophobic views onto everybody who shares a certain set of features. Subtly, Dumas seems to offer a reality check of sorts in a world that has changed through a variety of entanglements, and which can hold itself together only if the ethics of humankind—or as she suggests, of “man kind”—are reinserted into our lives.