Objects that Must Be Protected

Louise Bourgeois, photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1982

 

“Everything I loved had the shape of people around me—the shape of my husband, the shape of the children,” Louise Bourgeois has said. “So when I wanted to represent something I love, I obviously represented a little penis.” In the 1960s Bourgeois began constructing hanging sculptures and using a variety of materials—here plaster and latex—to create organic, fleshy sculptures that recall the human body.

 

Fillette, Louise Bourgeois, 1968

 

Fillette (Sweeter Version), Louise Bourgeois, 1968-89

 

The title of this emphatically phallic sculpture means ‘little girl’, an ironic disjunction of word and object. In fact, while it most obviously represents a phallus, it can can also be seen as a female torso. In this in this reading, the two round forms are the tops of two legs, attaching to their hip joints. This eliding of genders creates ambiguity, as do the work’s dual qualities of erect potency and fragile vulnerability.

Bourgeois has talked about this work in relation to her experiences as a wife, and a mother to three boys, which led her to see masculinity as far more vulnerable than she had imagined. ‘From a sexual point of view I consider the masculine attributes to be extremely delicate’, she explained. ‘They’re objects that the woman, myself, must protect.’

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