New in the Olla Art collection is the lithograph ‘A long silence’ by Marlene Dumas. This lithograph belongs to a series of six, published in 1990 by the Hamburg Griffelkunst-Vereinigung.
The lithograph is printed on Zerkall paper and signed and dated in pencil by Dumas. There is some paper loss on the back, probably due to an earlier mounting. The sheet is otherwise in excellent condition.
The lithograph is described in the work catalogue of Griffelkunst as number 257 B1 (Rüggeberg, 2004). The exact edition size in which the lithograph was printed is unknown. Since Griffelkunst works on the basis of pre-subscription, there are no fixed editions.
A long silence
The lithograph shows two figures, a (male?) figure in the foreground and a female figure somewhat more in the background. The meaning of the lithograph, in combination with the title, is not immediately clear to us. The term ‘a long silence’ usually refers to a period of silence, a lack of contact, after which the ice is usually broken and communication may (again) take place. Dumas was born in South Africa – could it be that ‘A long silence’ refers to the South African apartheid regime, which ends a year later, in 1990?
We looked for a possible reference to literature or film, and came across the 1963 film Un largo silencio (A long silence), a short documentary about life in Hospital Borda, a psychiatric hospital in Buenos Aires. We don’t see any clues there.
We did find a logical connection in the book ‘That Long Silence’ by the Indian writer Shashi Deshpande (born 1938). In our opinion, the lithograph could serve as an illustration for this book.
Marlene Dumas, A long silence, 1989
Lithograph, 50.7 x 45 cm (sheet), 25.8 x 25 cm (image)
Jaya and Mohan
The book That Long Silence, published the same year as Dumas’s lithograph, is about Jaya, who grows up as a bright, intelligent and inquisitive young woman, but gradually learns to behave submissively, as this is the conventional role of the woman in Indian society. She becomes aware that it is not appreciated when she expresses herself or her individuality, so she hides it. She herself refers to this stifling behaviour as ‘the long silence’, since this has been going on from an early age. When she marries Mohan, a successful businessman, this behaviour is further perpetuated. However, when Mohan loses his job and the family is disrupted, the fact that Mohan and Jaya have never been able to talk comfortably about their feelings and fears with each other, takes its toll. Mohan desperately needs Jaya’s support, but has no idea how to express that need, while Jaya has no idea how to provide support. Jaya realizes that she too is to blame. She acknowledges that ‘the long silence’ has stifled communication and openness in her family, making mutual support very difficult. The book ends on a hopeful note: Mohan, who has left home in the meantime, wants to return to Jaya, while his employer shows willingness to take him back. Jaya decides to grant his wish and vows never again to allow ‘the long silence’ to separate them emotionally.
Rüggeberg, H. (2004). Griffelkunst. Verzeichnis der Editionen (1976-2000), Band II (1988-2000). Hamburg: Griffelkunst-Vereinigung.