The Woven Child exhibition, shown at the Hayward Gallery in London in Spring 2022, was a great opportunity to view some of the work Louise Bourgeois created in the last decades of her life.

The artworks on display incorporated her own clothing and textiles (such as bed linen, handkerchiefs, tapestries and needlepoints) from all stages of her life. The use of such personal textiles created a moving and profound snapshot of her rich, complex and notably dark life. For the visitor it felt, to some extent, like being in the same room as the artist.

On entering the exhibition one was confronted by strange juxtapositions – sculptures which were half human, half animal – all made from the artist’s own garments.

Some were brightly coloured….

Others less so.

There were richly embroidered, life-sized disembodied heads staring at me from glass cases, which were very unsettling.

There were contorted bodies with multiple heads, an armless female figure whose breasts were tied with the spindles of thread (The Good Mother, 2003) and other figurative sculptures, all of which demonstrate the artist’s obsession with corporeality, childbirth and the domestic.

Much of Bourgeois’ work was overtly sexual, such as this cage sculpture, which, from certain angles, resembled a phallus….

Whilst other pieces were more delicate and intimate such as these embroidered household linens which explored femininity.

There were also some intriguing sculpture exploring balance made from stiffened clothing and domestic fabrics.

And finally the largest and scariest of her art works (for me at least) was Spider Cell 1997, one of Bourgeois’ iconic spider sculptures.  The 15ft bronze spider filled the room and straddled a steel mesh cage of items, including a tapestry chair.  Spiders reminded Bourgeois of her own mother who was a weaver and restorer of antique tapestries.

The detail below of a much larger piece was untitled.


Written by Maria Walker

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