Larger-than-life, spindly metal spiders. Yes, these represent to Bourgeois the archetype of the maternal figure, but it’s not what you think. She isn’t looking to represent motherhood like that portrayed through Mommie Dearest, GREAT movie, but something much more sentimental in spite of her work’s seemingly macabre appearance.
From the series Maman, L. Bourgeois, c. 1999
For Bourgeois the spider came to symbolize much of the nurturing nature associated with the figure of the mother. The way in which a spider weaves and intricately crafts the webs in which they reside, a mother can be seen as one who creates a home within a family unit. She is both nurturer and fierce protector. Bourgeois found a special connection at a young age between the spider and her mother, as her mother worked with tapestries as a weaver to support her family.
“I came from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.” (Bourgeois, 2007)
Bourgeois’ spiders look predatory and intimidating in both scale and overall aesthetic form, the weight of the metal and bronze giving a sense of solidarity and fixed in nature. Some may relate this to the permanent, fixed biological relation between a mother and her children. Though Bourgeois’ spiders appear ominous and overpowering, they convey a sense of fragility as they are carefully supported by the thin, delicate looking legs. This fragility speaks to one’s humanity, one’s vulnerabilities and sensitivities. This juxtaposition between the weight and solid-ness of the bronze and the delicacy of the sculpture’s form is mirrored in so much else of what the work says about motherhood and its intricacies.