On Louise Bourgeois’ The Reticent Child and Shame

Louise Bourgeois, detail of The Reticent Child (2004)

I Tanja, became a fan of Louise Bourgeois’ art at documenta IX when I entered her installation Precious Liquids (1992), a circular room of wood, containing a metal bed and various biomorphic glass containers. It struck me as a highly original exploration of corporeality, especially female corporeality—the external housing, the internal vessels, the title which might be read as an allusion to blood, tears, or mother’s milk. Though physically absent, these liquids feel strangely present. In a similar manner, Bourgeois’ etching triptych The Reticent Child (2004) explores hiddenness and exposure, showing in succession an unborn child in the womb, a recumbent figure within a breast, and finally a baby being born. These works prompted me to think about the body and philosophical aspects of picturing the invisible, and to work with philosophy student Phineas Jennings, whose research examining gender differences in the experience of shame dovetailed nicely with the aims of this essay.1

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  1. Jennings was the recipient of a Junior Research Award at the University of Sussex, where Staehler is on the faculty. []