Louise Bourgeois and the Venus of Lespugue

While sewing the other afternoon on my “My Name is Venus” huipil, I listened to a Marija Giambutas video to keep me in the Mother Goddess mood. Giambutas mentioned that the Venus of Lespugue, c. 25,000 year old steatopygian figurine from France, was one of her favorite Venus statues. I stopped stitching to closely look at the figurine because it reminded me so much of Louise Bourgeois’ sculptures.

 Born in France in 1911, Louise came from a family of tapestry restorers. She, too, worked with the family and learned The Aesthetics of Mending. She also learned how to sew. But her childhood was scarred by her father’s infidelities and the illness, both physical and psychological, it caused for her mother.

Our childhood follows us wherever we go and, during the last 50 years of her life, Louise externalized this childhood more and more. Because it was here she found magic, mystery, and drama.

As a young girl, she would draw the missing parts of damaged tapestry that needed to be rewoven. Louise said that spiders, too, repair.  If you try to destroy a spider’s web, the spider will weave and repair it. So even her metal spider sculptures reflected her childhood and the art of mending.

louise bourgeois spider

Standing outside of the Tate Modern at one point, Louise Bourgeois’ extraordinary sculpture, Maman (Mother), is a 30-foot-tall spider crafted of bronze, marble, and stainless steel.


“When I was growing up, all the women in my house were using needles. I’ve always had a fascination with the needle, the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness. It is never aggressive, it’s not a pin.” Louise Bourgeois

When in her 80s, Louise decluttered her closet and used old clothes to make her fabric book “Ode à la bièvre”. She said “You can retell your life and remember your life by the shape, weight, colour and smell of those clothes in your close.”  In other words, clothes are part of our identity.

Foto of Louise by Duane Michaels, 2007 and foto of , Diane of Ephesus


Louise also used her old clothes for her “Cell” series as well as for her breast  outfits  obviously inspired by Diana of Ephesus figurines.  These outfits in turn inspired fashion designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Hussein Chalayan, and Simone Rocha.

louise and rei

Louise Bourgeois and Rei Kawakubo duet

Louise called her  1960s and 1970s sculptures “bodyscapes” because : “The sculptures were a second skin that I wanted to model. Clothes are as much about what  you want  to hide of the body as what you want to expose. This is a form of communication. Body language is very important to me and it is true that there is beauty in distortion.”


The Venus of Lespugue and Louise Bourgeois’ Nature Study (2004)

The more I look at Louise’s fabric sculptures, the more I’m convinced that she was in some way inspired by Venus figurines. Such as that of Lespugue which has found a home at the Musee di l’Homme in Paris, dates the Gravettian period and was carved from mammouth ivory. It was discovered in the Rideaux cave of Lespugue (Pyrenees) in 1922, just 11 years after Louise was born.  As with Louise’s sculptures, the female sexual characteristics such as hips and breast are exaggerated.

I had a space on my My Name is Venus huipil  (99 Art Project) and knew it was meant for the Lespugue figurine.

Venus of Lespugue sketch in sketchbook and on huipil

Venus of Lespugue work in progress front and back


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Cynthia Korzekwa  ©

Work in Progress

My Name is Venus” huipil for the 99 Arts Project work-in-progress!

Before and After

This is the back panel of the huipil first with just the drawing then with appliquéd fabric scraps (which I have plenty of) added for the background. This helps me use materials I already have, use less embroidery thread which is expensive and not that easy to find here, as well as makes blocking in the huipil much easier.

Looking at some of the scraps makes me smile—there’s fabric from my man’s old boxers as well as from a shirt his kids came him for his birthday years ago.  There’s also fabric from a dress Kerry gave me as well as from a dress Gayle gave me.  The black is from the lining of a skirt Marina gave me.  It is already a kind of Memory Huipil.

I wish I had saved some of the clothes my son and daughter wore as little kids so that I could cut them up and piece them into a huipil. Or that I had my mother’s favorite red and white  polka dress she used to wear so much. Or even my old doll clothes.  All of these fabrics would have been fantastic for a Memory Huipil where you wear fabric souvenirs of someone important in your life.

My Name is Venus

And this represent a figurine from Naqada.

Here is a before & after of the figurine from Mesopotamia.

Again, the figurine from Mesopotamia.  The first foto is that of the backside. And the second foto shows the yellow threads that unite the white fabric pieced together to act as a canvas for the threads.

My Name is Venus

Mesopotamian Figurine

Unfortunately, sewing becomes addictive and today I must find the discipline to break away from my huipil for household chores!

Mal Oo

Cynthia Korzekwa  ©



Piecing the Huipil

And the 99 Art Project continues!


Pictured above is a lovely amuzgo huipil dress my son gave me several years ago.  It fits well so I used its measurements to make a cardboard template for my own huipiles.  Also indicated on the template is where to cut off for a blouse as opposed to a dress length huipil.


As I posted HERE, my huipiles begin with other people’s old clothes.  First I cut the clothes up into big pieces then sew them together to get the same proportions as that of my template.


To make sure I’m maintaining the right measurements, I use clothes pins to attach the pieced cloth to the template. As you can see from the first foto, I needed to add a long strip of fabric on the right. The other foto shows front and back now completely pieced together.

V Neck

I prefer a V-neck so I cut out the necessary fabric before continuing.


Once the front and back are properly pieced together, using my original sketches as a guide, I draw the images onto the fabric with a fabric pen. I’m not afraid of making mistakes but maybe it would be better to use color chalk instead as making corrections is easier that way.


Spaces are left below the images for titles. Finally, the stitching can begin!

The huipiles I make are thus called because they share the same basic pattern as those made in Central America. My huipiles also share the philosophy that clothes and wearer live, at least temporarily, in symbiosis. However, true huipiles are made by indigenous women who are continuing a tradition handed down to them by their ancestors. They have my total respect and admiration. And if it were possible, I would buy them by the tons. Unable to do so, I collect fotos of them that I add to my Pinterest collection.  Unfortunately, many well-known designers have inappropriately appropriated indigenous designs as I’ve written about here: Inspiration or Appropriation?


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Cynthia Korzekwa ©

Even Clothes Tell Stories

My journey with the 99 Art Project continues:

White Clothes on a Chair

This is my shirt.  It may seem like just a pile of white clothing but it is really a shirt waiting to be made. I rarely buy clothes  preferring, instead, to remake those I already have or those discarded by my friends. There are various reason why I do this.  To begin with, I grew up during a time when it was not  uncommon for women to make clothes for themselves and their family.  My mom, for example, made many of my dresses when I was a child.  She even made the wedding dress for my Aunt Ruby as well as the bridesmaid’s dress and my flower girl dress, a dress that made me feel like a little princess.

she’d made dresses for the wedding

There is also the ecological and ethics factor.  The fashion industry not only consumes an incredible amount of natural resources, it is also one of the major producers of toxic waste. The industry is also guilty of creating immoral sweatshop conditions for many of their workers. Just think of the 1,100 garment workers crushed to death when the factory in Bangladesh were they worked collapsed on them.

the building was falling on them

But  there is also a more romantic and magical reason. Our clothing absorbs the vibrations we emit thus wearing others’ clothing is like wearing their energy as well.

Just as a song or a smell can evoke a personal memory, so can clothes. White polka dots on red always make me think of a dress my mother used to wear.

If clothes could talk, what would they say?

his shirt remembered her dress

And of course there is the pleasure reward  that positive transformation always gives us. Transforming old clothes, as opposed to using ex-novo materials, means working around what’s already there. But restyling takes patience and skills I don’t have so I use an Ockham’s Razor approach—the simplest way is the best.  The simplest way for me has been that of using the huipil as a model.  The huipil, traditional blouse in Central America, is basically a rectangular piece of cloth folded in half with a slit in the center for the neck and side seams that leave an opening for the arms. So for my huipiles, it’s just a matter of piecing together cut up clothes to make a rectangle.

her huipil made her the center of the universe

The  huipil, of Mayan origin, was not considered just a garment but also a representation of personal ideology. The Mayans believed that clothing could transform a person just as a person could transform clothing, the two existing in symbiosis.

Mayans gave their huipiles a cosmic significance. Having the head placed in the very centre of the fabric has specific implications. When a woman places a huipil over her head, she enters a symbolic universe. As she sticks her head through the hole, she emerges into the external world and her body becomes the axis of the universe. She is the centre of the world connecting the earth and the sky.

she united earth and sky

The women participating in the 99 Art Project are not geographically united.  They come from various cultures and various nationalities.  Nevertheless, they are united in their womanhood.

Even though this concept we call democracy was invented over 2,500 years ago, women worldwide have been given the right to vote only within the past 100 years (more or less depending upon the country they’re from).  This means that the societies created in these 2,400 years or more have been based totally and exclusively  upon male mentality and male domination.  This is a crime against nature.

she touched his brain and he touched hers

Just as the brain is divided into two for reasons of efficiency, two sexes were created. They were made not to compete but to complement one another.  Instead, we live in a masculinized society that promotes dominance as opposed to collaboration. To impair this collaboration not only goes against nature but against our future. Because  this lack of balance has created not only a society that limps, but a society that’s on the verge of self-destruction. We need a more maternal attitude towards the world we live in if we want to survive thus the theme I’ve chosen for my 99 Art Project is that of the Great Mother.

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Cynthia Korzekwa ©

The Great Mother

Our first home was our mother’s womb.  Our first meal came from our mother’s breasts.  It is only natural, then, that in ancient times mothers were worshipped and adored.  Mothers were our first deities and life itself was our first religion.

Manifestation of this veneration can be seen in the numerous votive statuettes found all over the world often referred to as Venus figures. Venus was the name Romans gave to the Great Goddess and from her name comes the term “veneration”.  The Temples of Venus were also schools where the priestesses, known as venerii, taught sexual techniques. Sex was sacred as it offered the promise of a new life.

The Mother Goddess was a personification of nature thus uniting the individual with the divine. That’s why she was worshipped. But monotheism and patriarchs flayed her separating the individual from the divine. And the sacredness of life was lost.

But it is time for women to reunite the sacred with the profane.


The title of my huipil for the 99 Art Project is “My Name Is Venus”. It is divided into 12 frames with each frame representing a specific goddess figurine from an ancient culture.


votive 1b.jpg

Venus of Willendorf

Without a doubt, the Venus of Willendorf is the most famous of prehistoric female figurines.  It was found in Willendorf, Austria in 1908 by the archeologist Joseph Szombathy and presently can be seen at the Natural History Museum of Vienna.

Faceless, thus a symbol not a person, she has plaited hair and originally was covered with red ochre.

The figurine is so small that she fits in the palm of a hand thus portable and maybe used as a talisman.


Poppy Goddessc

Poppy Goddess of Gazi (Knossos, c 1400 BC)

Poppies were grown in huge quantities on Crete and used in temples to provoke visionary experiences. Thus the seed pod of the poppy was often found in the hands of goddess figurines.

The poppy was the plant of happiness as its consumption helped ease one’s pain.  That’s why it is often associated with Demeter because, after Hades kidnapped her daughter, Persephone, and took her to the underworld, Demeter was so overwhelmed with despair that she ate poppies  in order to fall asleep and obliterate the pain.

The Poppy Goddess figures are generally represented with their arms uplifted as in an orant position.


Minoan Vessel Goddess

Minoan Vessel Goddess with Snake

Snakes were once a symbol of female power as it was believed, like women, they contained the secrets of life.  The snake’s poison represented power whereas the shedding of its skin represented regeneration.

The serpent as a Mother Goddess appeared during Neolithic times.  Eve, another Earth Goddess, is also associated with the snake.  Poor Eve.  She was punished simply because she sought awareness but awareness had its price.  For the state of unconscious unity induced humans to see themselves and all life as one.  Awareness, via the eating of the forbidden fruit offered by a snake, forced Eve and Adam to see themselves as individuals and no longer part of the whole.

This Boeotian votive with Frida eyebrows not only shows a woman with a snake, it is also a vessel.  The womb is a vessel as it contains the promise of a new life.


Cycladic Goddess

Cycladic Goddess

On the Aegean islands, little goddess figures were created as early as 6000 BC.  Generally their arms are folded under their breasts, a position typically used when burying the dead.  In fact, many of these figures were found in graves as well as in shrines.

There is still much mystery regarding these figurines but the time and effort needed to sculpt them from marble implies that there were of significance and maybe seen as religious idols related to fertility rites.


Ephiphany Gesture Goddess

Epiphany Gesture Goddess

This goddess is a Neolithic Egyptian figure with raised arms dating c 4000-35000 BC. She has a beak, relating her to a Bird Goddess, and raised arms.  The raised arms could be symbolic of bird wings ready to take flight.

This pose is known as the Gesture of Epiphany and, in Egypt, the uplifted arms in hieroglyphics represents Ka, vital essence that distinguishes the living from the dead.


Sleeping Goddess of Malta

Sleeping Goddess of Malta

Around 5000 BC, Sicilians began arriving on Malta bringing their beliefs with them.  For about 1000 years they built temples made from giant blocks of stone that often included rooms painted red.

A tiny figurine of a sleeping goddess was found at the Hypogeum at Hal Saflien.  She is dreaming the world into being.

Dreams were important because they often offered answers one failed to see when awake. Thus the incubation, the practice of sleeping in a sacred area in hopes of having a revealing dream.



Astarte Goddess

This figurine from Mesopotamia (terra cotta, c 24th cen BC) possibly represents the goddess Astarte.  She is holding her breasts as if offering them.

The first part of one’s life cycle was called “child at the breast” as the child was dependent upon his mother’s  breast.

These figurines remind me of the “Caritas Romana“ (“Roman Charity”) paintings depicting the story of Pero, a woman who secretly breastfeeds her father while he is in jail sentenced to death via starvation. A guard discovers her and reports her to officials who are so humbled by such an act of selfishness that they release her father.


Tell Brak Eye Idol

Eye Goddess

Agatha Christies’s husband, archeologist Max Mallowan, invented the term “eye idols” after discovering a number of figurines with huge eyes while excavating at Tell Brak in northeast Syria (1937-1938). In ancient times, Tell Brak was an international city and home for several civilization including the Sumerians and Babylonians until it was abandoned in c 2000 BC.

Julian Jaynes said that the mouthless eye idols indicate that their purpose was to hypnotically enhance hallucination when the living tried to communicate with the dead. Because, unlike today, eye contact was once fundamental for communication.  That’s why these idols didn’t need mouths as they spoke with their eyes.  Thus they are speaking statues. According to Jaynes consciousness began when the gods stopped  speaking.

Unfortunately, with all the bombs dropped on Syria, it is probable that many of these idol artifacts have been destroyed.


Phoenician Goddess

Phoenician Astarte Goddess

The Canaanite goddess of fertility was adopted by the Phoenicians who later transformed her into Aphrodite.

What makes this figurine interesting is that she is standing akimbo. The word “akimbo” comes from “the river’s bend” and is the posture of strength, of taking a stance, of imposing yourself.



Reptilian  goddess.

The Anunnaki were deities found in the cultures of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians.  Much speculation has been made about them.  There are those who believe the Anunnaki to be extraterrestrial beings who came from the Taurus constellation.

Related to the Anunnaki (maybe as allies) are the Reptilians from Tiamet, a plant with characteristic similar to the Earth.  Reptilians are capable of shape shifting as they were experts in genetic engineering.

Reptilians are humanoid reptiles in their original form and known to have a malevolent nature.


Boeotian Bell Goddess

Bell-shaped goddess

This archaic terra cotta figurine is from Boeotia (Northern Greece). Her bell shaped body depicts a chain of dancing worshippers with their arms up in the orant position. There are swastikas painted on her long Modglianian neck. The swastika is the symbol of the Earth fixed on one spot.

Dancing was once a spiritual experience so rituals included dance because its motion united both mind and body.

This goddess figure is now located at the Louvre, so very far from home.


Naqada Figurine

Naqada goddess

Naqada is a town on the west bank of the Nile. It gives its name to the archaeological culture of Chalcolithic Predynastic Egypt (c 4400-3000 BC).

This figurine comes from the Naqada grave # 271.  Her eyes are like breasts, her breasts are like eyes.


Sketches for “My Name is Venus” Huipil



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Cynthia Korzekwa ©