Marlene Dumas was born in Cape Town, South Africa. She studied at the University of Cape Town from 1972 to 1975 and moved to the Netherlands on a scholarship when she was 23. She's been living in Amsterdam for many years.
She often uses reference material of polaroid photographs of her friends and lovers, whilst she also references magazines and pornographic material. Marlene Dumas also paints portraits of children and erotic scenes to impact the world of contemporary art. She has said that her works are better appreciated as originals since many of her smaller sexual works are very intimate.
She has also worked with students, finding that "teaching [is] a very important thing, and not only because I teach [the students] things, but also because we have a dialogue, and you see what you really want. You find things out. I still believe in the Socratic dialogue. Art is really something that you learn from being around people."
Her first major American museum exhibition, a midcareer retrospective entitled "Measuring Your Own Grave", opened in June 2008 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.