"There has always been sexual suggestiveness in my work. Sometimes I am totally concerned with female shapes - clusters of breasts like clouds - but I often merge the imagery - phallic breasts, male and female, active and passive. [...] We are all vulnerable in some way, and we are all male and female" (L., Destruction of the Father/Reconstruction of the Father, London 2000, p. 101).
Femme is a highly sensual sculpture that explores the tension between sexual opposites. It calls to mind Bourgeois' figures from the late 1960s and 1970s, which feature limbless bodies crowned by phalluses--her demonstration of how to combine rather than reconcile the feminine and masculine eros (Harmless Women, 1969; Fragile Goddess, 1970). Femme is a woman of fleshy sensuousness, with heavy round breasts and a protuberant belly, the visual embodiments of fecundity. As the fabric version of Fragile Goddess (2002), it bears eloquent testimony to Bourgeois' predilection for themes of femininity and semantic/sexual ambiguity. She elaborates on earlier compositions, rendering the body in a reclining position and showing the left upper leg. This compositional variation endows the figure with an evocative sexual charge. The broken leg presents a formal counterpoint to the phallus-shaped head, while the suggestive cleavage leads the viewer's eye toward the hidden female genitalia. The absent and invisible body parts could be seen to represent female vulnerability, a recurrent theme in Bourgeois' work and writings. "In a woman," she once stated, "sex comes when she loses control. In a man, it comes from asserting his control" (ibid., p. 228). The use of sculpture to depict fragments of the body is a practice that dates to antiquity, but Bourgeois' sources appear far older. Through its quasi-archetypal, mammary-like forms, Femme recalls primitive statuettes such as the Venus of Willendorf. With its flesh-like surface and soft-rounded shapes, the sculpture is imbued with an enticing tangibility, capturing Bourgeois' quest for formal perfection to maximum effect.