Art, at its best, has been an expression of the human experience of life and the theme of mother and child has been a central motif in art for centuries. The Virgin Mary has presented the ideal of a protective mother to which women have aspired. But in the age of post-Freudian psychoanalysis, motherhood has become more eccentric and complex than ever.
Louise Bourgeois was born on 25th December 1911 in Paris, France. She was the second child of three born to parents Joséphine Fauriaux and Louis Bourgeois. Taking up art was a way for her to fight specific fears. The fear and trauma of abandonment that she suffered not only through her untimely birth on Christmas Day but also on her mother’s death in 1932, when she was only twenty-one. Louise drew on painful memories of childhood traumas to create her tribute to her mother.
In 1996, The Maman was created as a part of Bourgeois’s inaugural commission of The Unilever Series (2000), in the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern. It’s a bronze, stainless steel and marble sculpture of an immense spider supported on eight slender and knobbly legs. Each ribbed leg ends in a sharp-tipped point made of two pieces of steel and attached to a collar above where an irregularly ribbed spiraling body rises, balanced by a similar sized egg sac below. The sculpture picks up the theme of the spider that Bourgeois had first contemplated in a small ink and charcoal drawing in 1947.
Maman oversaw three steel towers entitled: I Do, I Undo and I Redo, referring to processes of emotional development in relation to motherhood, a central theme in the artist’s oeuvre. In all three towers, Bourgeois placed a bell jar containing small sculptures, each one reflecting on the mother-child relationship. Consummately, Maman can be seen as alluding to many maternal figures: the artist, the mother and a mythological or archetypal mother who is universal, powerful, terrifying and beautiful.
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