Violence, eroticism and oppression converge as Rego’s deeply ambiguous work goes straight for the subconscious in this mesmerising seven-decade retrospective
A girl in voluminous skirts wrestles a dog to the ground. It lies on its back, startled and gasping, helpless as the poor mutt submitting to heavy chains in the neighbouring painting, or the dog having its throat shaved with an open razor in the next.
A fourth painting, very famous, shows another girl – though somehow it is always the same girl – apparently raising her dress to a dog that sits before her with uncomprehending obedience. The title confirms what your eyes can hardly believe; but what is really going on in this scenario? You are asked to look, imagine, identify; what is she taking out on these dogs, and why; what is the relationship between human and animal; is this a kind of bestial abuse?
Image: Paula Rego, The Little Murderess, 1987
© Paula Rego