Louise Bourgeois - rendering sexuality in feminine and androgynous forms


What I found is that her work has deeply engaged with her past and memories, especially about her parents. Well, a lot of artist would say that art and life is very much linked each other. But, I had reasons to look up her works in terms of referring narratives sexuality and kind of gender as a female artist. My initial motivation of making painting was my health fear that has drawn from my unconscious. But I found that fear and anxiety was no longer my driving force to make art. Because the vagina and phallic form have shown up in my painting and drawing, I thought there might be specific reasons why I depict those kind of things. In terms of sexuality, Louise bourgeois focused on womanhood and the ambivalent feeling of motherhood, representing the gigantic spider, Maman.


I wondered why she rendered somethings that look like sexual(genetic) organs- Femme Couteau 1982 , Fillette 1968. The reason why I looked up her work is first, her automatic drawing and phallic figures. But, there has been one thing deeply exisiting throughout all of her work. Many of her scupltures, paintings- what she made for the entire life- were filled with the greatest fear of being abandonded and thus betrayed due to her childhood memory. (Ulf Kuster) This ceaseless fear of her was constructed in her childhood that's when her unconscious built up. I can tell her work is traumatic and psycologically generated - this is really complicated to explain. Even though she already worked on recasting the past, that had been along with the rest of her life and the object that she created make them tangible.


SO, What I tried to figure out is: Why female shape? Why male penis? Why can they symbolise female and male at the same time (androgynous). How she rendered female? What was her thought of woman?

BECAUSE: I don't still know why I depict sexual organs-like forms, why they are existing and putting together in one painting. What are their relationship?


Maman 1999

Firstly, I looked up her significant sculpture - The Spider. I was able to find out her thought of woman as mother. Many people see this spider represents mother or motherhood- stands for the principle of repair and renewal. As if a spider weave and make webs or protect itself and kill intruders - the idea of spider is ambivalent, woman can be safe and dangerous, good and bad, strong and weak at the same time. Like a woman who gives and takes life. So, it seems reasonable to see as womanhood in her point of view. As she said, "The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver.  My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother." Here, Maman refers to more than one possible maternal figure : Louise Bourgeois herself, her mather. As the viewer would have the perspective of the child looking up from below- they may experience the sculpture as an expression of anxiety about a mother(EM) /" I need my mother, I refuse to be your mother."

Femme Couteau (1982), she is totally concerned whith female shapes- clusters of breasts like clouds- but often I merge the imgaery- phallic breasts, male and female, active and passive. This marble sculpture-my Femme Couteau- embodies the polarity of woman, the destructive and the seductive. She identifies with the penis to defend herself.. we are all vulnerable in some way, and we are all male-female.

Spiral Woman(1952) combines Bourgeois’ preoccupation with female sexuality and torture. Bubbling, flesh-like rolls seem to suffocate the dangling woman whose flexing leg muscles suggest that she is still alive.




Cell: You Better Grow Up(1993) – part of her Cell series – directly reflects Bourgeois’ childhood trauma and the insecurity that surrounded her because of her unstable family situation.The anthropomorphic, suggestive, and often grotesque shapes that her sculptures assume – the female and male bodies are continually reshaped to be almost unrecognisable, or at least, uncanny – are charged with sexuality and innocence, and the sometimes disturbing interplay between the two. In Cell (Arch of Hysteria)1993, the headless male body is cast in polished bronze inside a cage; in another work, it is suspended from a string, portraying both power and vulnerability.




Reason of phallus- references <Fillette, 1968>

1. Everything I loved had the shape of people around me—the shape of my husband, the shape of the children, ” Bourgeois said. “ So when I wanted to represent something I love, I obviously represented a little penis. ” The title of the work, however, lends it ambiguity. In the 1960s Bourgeois began constructing hanging sculptures and using a variety of materialshere plaster and latexto create organic, fleshy sculptures that recall the human body.

2. Bourgeois has certainly used female sexuality in her work, but by the 1960s she was  more androgynous or even masculine in her choices of subject. Her most famous and most photographed “erotic” work is her latex sculpture Fillette 1968, which playfully confuses genders.


3. Perhaps the most provocative was Fillette(1968), disturbingly translated as ‘Young Girl’, this large, detached latex phallus is suggestive and provocative in its interpretation of female sexuality and latent distrust of male figures which perhaps stemmed from her childhood memories of her father’s affairs.


4. The question of male and female? Well the fact is that the interpretation is the privilege of the viewer. And you will be amazed to see that some people see this as a male apendage. Well its not to my intention?? (Ulf Kuster)



Janus fleuri (1968) is another hanging organic shape that is one of the six versions of Janus. Bourgeois created this hanging sculpture that combines a horizontal mirror image of phallic aspects. (tate.or.uk.2016) Like Fillette(1968), it recalls human body that merges female and male sexual organs. Janus is the Roman god who have two heads, a female and a male. In other words, Louise Bourgeois borrowed bisexuality of the god Janus and created the androgynous form in her own way.

The Destruction of the Father (1974) represents a family dinner table; the gloating patriarch is being devoured by his tyrannised children. This isn't just a great work in its own right; it's a visceral statement of intent. A cauldron deep inside the artist, by now a widow, has finally boiled over.


# sexuality is unquestionably one of the most important and prominent themes in the work of Louise Bourgeois. Though aggressive, her sculptures tend to blur themes of protection, fragility and insecurity to create deeply symbolic pieces that emphasise the relationship to the unconscious with which she was fascinated.

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@Louise Bourgeois, HATJECANTZ, by Ulf Kuster

@The body as Medium and Metaphor, Hannah Westley, 2008 (p170)

@Personal Sexual Narratives in the work of Louise Bourgeois and Tracy Emin, Caltin Coor, 2007, p. 25-29

@Contending with the Father, Louise Bourgeois and her Aesthetics of Reparation, by Elisabeth Bronfen

@https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/bourgeois-maman-t12625 by Elizabeth Manchester

@https://www.tate.org.uk/tate-etc/issue-11-autumn-2007/lumps-bumps-bulbs-bubbles-bulges-slits-turds-coils-craters-wrinkles by Elaine Showalter

@Tate acquires Louise Bourgeois’s giant spider, Maman

https://www.tate.org.uk/press/press-releases/tate-acquires-louise-bourgeoiss-giant-spider-maman

@https://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/articles/louise-bourgeois-the-artist-who-brought-sexuality-to-the-public-eye/