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Louise Bourgeois spiders: ode to maternity

An unconventional, revolutionary, feminist, provocative artist, with a troubled childhood: here is how Louise Bourgeois expresses all her perturbation with her giant spiders.

An autobiographical art

 “All my work of the last fifty years, all my subjects, have found their inspiration in my childhood.”

Louise Bourgeois is undoubtedly one of the most controversial figures of Western history of art, able to impose herself on the artistic scenario of 1900s thanks to the fascinating personality which shines through her majestic sculptures. Hers is an autobiographical art, born from the deep necessity to manifest the pains suffered during her childhood in Paris, caused by the conflicting relationship with her father. Even though Louise Bourgeois have engaged in several arts during her life, she mostly focuses on sculpture, the most concrete of them, probably because she was inspired by the family business of tapestries restoration. Through this deeply autobiographical art form, the artist can indeed shape her childhood traumas, and communicate them to the world through artworks full of pathos and personality.

The maternity of her spiders

“I had to make myself be forgiven for being a girl.

And this very femininity and the consequent maternity of her spiders have been insistently represented in Louise Bourgeois’s artworks, by manifesting themselves through giant sculptures. As shown by the drawings born after her moving to New York, Louise’s attention for spiders dates back to 1940s, but the artist only transforms them into sculptures in 1990s. Even though many of us may not agree, Louise Bourgeois spiders represent the sense of safety that only a mother can transmit: thanks to the long metallic legs upon which they stand, these sculptures are about ten meters high and they allow a person to stand under them, making the idea of safety which Louise wants to suggest real. Moreover, the maternity of her spiders is also expressed through a sack of marble eggs placed under the womb of the giant arachnids.

Maman: homage to the mother

“The spider—why the spider? Because my best friend was my mother and she was clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and as useful as a spider.”

Louise Bourgeois spiders not only represent the celebration of maternity as a typical feminine characteristic, they also are a real homage to her mother, Josephine Fauriaux. For Louise, the maternity of her spiders is the expression of the loving and careful attitude of her mother, who the artist considers her best friend: in contraposition to the relationship with the father, the connection between Louise and her mother is based on such an affinity and protection that it stimulates the artist to pay homage to the beloved mother by creating Maman, the very first giant sculpture in the shape of a spider, of which the artist later reproduces several versions. The similarity between the mother and the spiders consists in the act of weaving, of tapestries in the case of the mother and of spider webs in the case of the spiders, in the patience, intelligence and usefulness: spiders are indeed useful creatures, because, by feeding on mosquitos, they protect us from the diseases transmitted by the blood ingested by the insects.

Spiders across the globe

Many reproductions of the spectacular sculptures in the shape of spider have been settled in front of several art places over the years. Nowadays, we can admire these majestic arachnids ahead of the most famous museums of the world: Maman is settled at the entrance of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, another giant spider welcomes us in front of the Tate Modern in London, and even in Japan, precisely in Roppongi Hills, visitors can admire one of these incredible creatures.