The MARTa Museum in Herford, Germany.

The MARTa Museum in Herford, Germany.
Photo courtesy of novofotoo at Flickr Creative Commons.

Shame is a universal emotion. Everyone experiences it and yet everyone copes with it in their own unique way. It’s a disconcerting aspect of the human condition.

A new exhibit called “The Inner Skin – Art and Shame,” is an artist’s take on what it means to feel mortified. The exhibit, which is on display at the MARTa museum in Herford, Germany, is by far one of the most revelatory and eerie collections of all time. It forces us to confront the uncomfortable, the unsettling. It forces us to confront the shame that we repress.

Of the more than 100 works on display, “Self-Portrait as a Child” by Austrian artist Clemons Krauss stands out for one particular reason: it’s uncanny. The piece resembles a lifeless human body; a young man lies dead on the floor, his flesh crinkled in overlapping layers, devoid of all air. It’s as if shame literally sucks the life out of a person.

Another piece that stands out is Bruce Gilden’s “Jamie.” It’s a photograph of a teenage boy whose face is covered in acne. The disfigurement is uneasy to look at; one’s immediate impulse is to look away. But beneath the surface of the red, blistering scars is a certain kind of bravery. This young man has put his insecurities on full display for the world to examine, poke fun at, and ridicule. It’s vulnerability in its rawest form.

Then there’s “Mare Nostrum,” by Swiss artist Miriam Cahn. It’s a drawing of two men, two women, and three children, all of whom are naked. The figures, abashed by their nudity, cover their genitals in shame. One woman cannot cover her private parts due to a bloody, amputated arm. The figures are meant to represent war refugees. It raises the question: who should be ashamed? The figures, for their vulnerable state of being? Or the viewer, for simply observing from afar and doing nothing to help?

So far, there are no plans to bring the exhibit to the U.S. However, it’s definitely worth taking a look at online. It’s a unique and unusual concept, one that’s worth exploring in further detail.