What is a mother? That’s the question brought to the minds of everyone who views French artist Louise Bourgeois’s monumental spider sculpture Maman.
On the one hand, a mother is love and care. Bourgeois herself stated that the giant artwork was symbolic of her mother, who like a spider was a weaver. With ten eggs in its belly, the sculpture is meant to embody her idea of maternal protection.
On the other, the piece is frightening. Hovering above the viewer at 10 meters tall, it might be easier to associate it with a creature from the Alien franchise or the “spider monster” in Netflix’ Stranger Things than, say, the friendly eight-legged mother in Charlotte’s web. Rangy and made of cold metal, with an intimidating presence, she is both nurturing and overbearing, protective and threatening; she’s complex – a fact often attributed to the artist’s complicated childhood memories, and her mother’s early death which inspired her to become an artist.
While Bourgeois began creating art in her early twenties, it was with her later work, large installations like Maman, that she became famous. Maman is her most renowned piece, created in 1999 for the Tate Modern’s first Turbine Hall commission in 2000, and it has since been exhibited all around the world. On March 31, it will be displayed in a new setting, at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens. Brought to Greece through a cooperation between the foundation and NEON, it will stand in the Esplanade area where it can be viewed by the public for free, for seven months.
A timeless piece, Bourgeois’ spider connects to everyone’s experience of motherhood in one way or another, and can easily be given allegorical interpretations as well. At this moment in time, for example, perhaps reflecting a certain country frequently referred to as “mother.”
This article first appeared in Greece-Is.com, an English-language publishing initiative by Kathimerini.