My first encounter with Louise Bourgeois' Maman was in the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in South Korea - looking up at the giant sculpture made me feel small and vulnerable. The spider, over 30-feet tall, acts as a protector of the museum and demands visitors’ immediate attention at first glance. It took me some time to walk across the museum square to reach the spider's eight bronze legs. Underneath the spider’s ribbed body, a meshed sac containing a bundle of white and gray marble eggs protrudes. This iconic artwork has created a surrealistic wonderland and transports visitors into the artist’s intense emotional world.
Maman at the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul. Photo: Koreabridge
Bourgeois' long artistic career spanned almost a century. Her childhood and familial experiences had always been her main source of inspiration. The first Maman sculpture was only realised in 1996 when the artist was 85. Bourgeois' first drawing of a spider was in 1947, and she picked up multiple ideas of the spider as a maker, protector, and even as a horrific character to link her feelings to the mother figure. Ask your children to select animals that represent themselves and the family members, let them present their thoughts. You may be surprised!
“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."
Connotations of spiders have often been described as poisonous, scary, and even dangerous. Bourgeois has played around with the symbol and scaled it up, building a fairyland that has captured and stirred contradictory feelings of curiosity and fear. How can something as potentially horrific as a giant spider be identified with the idea of a nurturing mother? What do we feel when the size scale of a human and this small insect has been exchanged? Do we feel protected as the spider literally towers over us and even provides shelter?
These questions could stimulate our children’s interest in their surroundings, and encourage parents to go through a child's emotional responses together to build a responsive parent-child bond.
Written by Tania Wong