And the crucified redeemer himself? Marlene Dumas has portrayed him as released from the cross, risen from the dead and hovering in front of a bright yellow background. She has given this particular image the English name ‘Free Jesus’. It is still a representation of a body racked by torture but nonetheless liberated – and furthermore, he is black. It is an unconventional portrayal of Jesus which some observers might find disconcerting, but at the same time, it is as radical as Christ’s core message, namely love thy neighbour. The facial features are only hinted at and reveal no individual characteristics but allow him to be perceived as a universal but by no means arbitrary figure, whose message of salvation is addressed to everyone.
With her altarpiece for the Annenkirche, Marlene Dumas has successfully negotiated the balancing act between Christian symbolism on the one hand and imagery that is driven by current events on the other. The great Christian and human themes are translated here into a reduced visual language that achieves immediacy. It is a bold concept that demands courage from the observer, the courage to face up to today’s realities on the basis of the traditional values handed down through centuries of Christianity.