This article examines how Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) plays with different modes of self-presentation in Mumbling Beauty (2015), a photo book consisting of 81 photographs of the artist taken in the final years of her life by Alex Van Gelder. I start by outlining connections and divergences between these self-presentations and interpretations of Bourgeois’ late style. As the portraits make the artist hypervisible as a much older vulnerable woman, I ask how Mumbling Beauty can resist abjection. I will argue that strategies of performance, masquerade, and displacement, in combination with playful interactions with mirror surfaces and images, and flirtations with photography’s death drive, enable these portraits to diversify notions of self and beauty. Furthermore, through the concepts of the ethical stare and the holding gaze, I interpret the relational, intercorporeal, and affective potential of this particular photographic practice. To conclude, I speculate on how these particular portraits of the artist as a much older woman can be inspirational in terms of conceptualizing creative skills that even people who are not professional artists may need in their quest for meaning in later life beyond hegemonic discourses of “successful” and “healthy” ageing.
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- Louise Bourgeois, photography, performativity of gender and age