Unlike many modern sculptors, Bourgeois never abandoned representation, and Quarantania, I is explicitly anthropomorphic. Each of its elements was originally made as an autonomous work: the central figure, Woman with Packages (1947–49), is surrounded by four variations of Bourgeois’s sculpture Shuttle Woman. The intimate arrangement suggests a gathering of close friends or family members in conversation. Approximately life-size, the five figural forms address viewers symbolically as well as physically. Their shapes recall wooden weaving shuttles, traditional instruments associated with the crafts of tapestry making and repair, from which Bourgeois’s parents earned their livelihood.
The individual figures in Quarantania, I are typical of the totemic painted wood sculptures—her first works in three dimensions—that Bourgeois produced in the 1940s and ’50s and which she later called Personages. Despite their formal proximity to other works she was familiar with—by Surrealists and artists from various regions of Africa—Bourgeois asserted that her Personages “had nothing to do with sculpture.” Rather, she said, these works were “manifestations of homesickness” for aspects of the life she had known before moving from Paris to New York in 1938, the year she began making them.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)