Unsatisfied Desire

Paul Andriesse Gallery, Marlene Dumas, Unsatisfied Desire, Card, 1983

As a follow up to her 1983 exhibit “Unsatisfied Desire” in the Paul Andriesse Gallery in Amsterdam, Marlene Dumas provides another art form through which to explore this topic. What caught my attention was her understanding of art not as a mirror but as “a translation of that which you do not know, but of which you want to convince others…”

Unsatisfied Desire and the untrustworthy Language of Art

by Marlene Dumas

Some people die of their own passion.
Some by the passion of others.
And some simply die of illness
or another natural cause.
I am against it.

Art is not a mirror. Art is a translation
of that which you do not know, but of
which you want to convince others or
rather, that which no-one knows, but
by which everyone can be seduced into
believing that although ‘it’ is bad, ‘it’ is
good: it’s good not to have what you
desire most.

I’ll continue to cry for the doomed:
innocent brushstrokes, painterly
trances, the exotic other, ‘love-fictions’.
To lip read and name the silence,
to use the dream that torture will stop
when the prisoner talks.


Unsatisfied Desire and the untrustworthy Language of Art was originally published in Private Symbol, Social Metaphor (cat.), 5th Sydney Biennale and Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1984; and is included in Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts, first edition Galerie Paul Andriesse and De Balie Publishers Amsterdam, 1998; and second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014.

For a very interesting follow up, Deborah Nicholls-Lee of BBC Culture wrote “The art of exposing the evil in the Ordinary” in response to two more recent exhibits by Dumas.


Even though art may be an “untrustworthy language”, are the arts the best means we have to understand our world? Is art a translation rather than a mirror – whereby something gets lost or distorted?

However we engage the arts, we are humbled by the labyrinth of languages we need to communicate.

And yet, there is a language of One who speaks to us; who can get through to us; who speaks everything into existence:

In the beginning God created… and God said…

In the beginning was the Word…

Let us listen.

About R.H. (Rusty) Foerger

As I enter the third third of life, I am becoming aware of the role of elders today “to enlarge spiritual vision, being devoted to prayer, living in the face of death, as a living curriculum of the Christian life” (Dr. James M. Houston). I am a life long and life wide learner who seeks to: *decipher the enigma of our worth *rescue from the agony of prayerlessness *integrate spiritual friendship.
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