Gallery 01:11

I have endeavoured during my whole lifetime as a sculptor to turn woman from an object into an active subject.

Louise Bourgeois’ art is complex, radical, and sometimes unnervingly direct. In sculptures and works on paper and in textile, she portrays intense emotions and experiences. She was a pioneer, not least for feminist art. Although she had been a practising artist for more than half a century, her international recognition did not come until 1982, with a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Louise Bourgeois was 71 at the time.

The suspended bronze sculpture Janus Fleuri is one of her most iconic works; Louise Bourgeois calls it a self-portrait. In its ambiguity, it is a metaphor for sexuality, and for the undercurrent of human urges. Her works from the 1960s presage the issues of gender and identity that became central to younger artists in the 1970s and 1980s.

Textiles and their repair were part of Louise Bourgeois’ life since childhood. She grew up in a Parisian middle-class family which earned its living restoring mediaeval and renaissance tapestries. Sewing and repairs were an essential element of her practice. In I am Afraid, the words are woven into the fabric, becoming a part of the tapestry, rather than embroidered on the textile. The artist pursues an inner dialogue about her fears and concludes that she is not perfect, nor does she miss anything.

For Louise Bourgeois, life and art were inseparable. Memory was integral to her creative process, and she referred to her art as a confrontation with the past to achieve self-knowledge in the present.

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