"Great Men" - Marlene Dumas at Manifesta 10 Favorite 

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Jun 28 2014

AMSTERDAM — “When I was in the army, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

So reads the text beneath a haunting ink-and-metallic acrylic portrait of Leonard Maltovich, an American veteran of the Vietnam War who died in 1988 at the age of 45. It is one of 16 portraits that make up “Great Men,” a series by the contemporary artist Marlene Dumas that will be exhibited in St. Petersburg, Russia, as part of Manifesta 10, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, June 28 to Oct. 31.

Each of the men depicted was persecuted, in one way or another, because they were suspected of being gay. They include the writers James Baldwin and Tennessee Williams; the dancers and choreographers Rudolf Nureyev and Vaslav Nijinsky, and the mathematician Alan Turing. The quote from Maltovich is taken from his tombstone.

Ms. Dumas, who is known for her emotionally charged portraits, hopes the series might “contribute to a mentality change” in Russia, where recent anti-gay legislation has led to an escalation of hate crimes against gay men and lesbians.

“The project is to provoke thought, not aggression,” the South African-born, Amsterdam-based Ms. Dumas said in an email interview. “I hope to touch the audience with these intimate portraits and the lives of these men. I hope to share my shame, seeing the stupidity and cruelty of the human race. When you start to acknowledge the stories of these men, it breaks your heart.”

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