Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hidden Campus: Abraham & Isaac

The above sculpture can be found by the steps connecting the Chapel and Firestone Library to Washington Road. Many people see this statue on a daily-basis but are unaware of what it represents. Indeed, it is somewhat of a cryptic piece and, most of all, there apparently is no plaque that explains or identifies it. The statue is titled In Memory of May 4, 1970, Kent State: Abraham and Isaac. It was made by American sculptor George Segal under the request of Cleveland's Mildred Andrews Foundation, and was meant to serve as a memorial to the Kent State shootings. This event, also known as the May 4 Massacre or Kent-State Massacre, received international attention when members of the Ohio National Guard shot unarmed college students protesting against President Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia. Kent State University, however, considered the statue too polemic and refused to install it on its campus. Princeton then acquired the bronze statue in 1979. Other sculptures by George Segal can be found at the University Art Museum, including the Circus Acrobats installed in the atrium within the building’s entrance.

The controversial nature of the Abraham & Isaac piece lies in its religious imagery, as it is a depiction of the biblical story in which Abraham nearly kills his son in the attempt to follow a divine order which proved to be a test of his own faith. The connection between this story and the Kent-State massacre –as well as the significance of this correlation to the remembrance of such a horrible tragedy –remains questionable, but the sculptor of the piece did find that the two were incontrovertibly linked. In his own words, the statue is “an attempt to introduce difficult moral and ethical questions as to how older people should behave toward their children."

The statue has now been in place for 30 years and, during this time, society’s conception of the relationship between children and their elders has changed; the conception of our relationship with the university has changed. Perhaps we can still think of ourselves as the defenseless child, kneeling down with tied hands, perhaps this image no longer illustrates our current reality. But whatever the case, the college experience which serves as our gateway to the “real” world also marks the transition in which we can eventually become the man with the knife. Next time you see Abraham and Isaac’s bronze figures, realize that the campus aesthetics may be symbolic of truths which are not easily noticeable, but profoundly meaningful.


Anonymous said...

You forgot an important feature of the statue: when viewed from the correct angle (stand somewhere near the stairs between Dickinson and the Chapel), it looks like Isaac is giving Abraham a blowjob.

Anonymous said...

how could write about this and leave out the fact that it's the blowjob statue??? ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."

"Highway 61 Revisited" Recorded August, 1965

Bob Dylan HD'70

And that is your Pop Culture Lesson for the Day!
Bible+Blues+Kent State+George Segal+Princeton+Chapel

joiseyfan said...

The title of the Statue and the appropriate passage from Genesis 22 are on a plaque on the adjacent wall of the Chapel.

Andrew Stella said...

Thanks for posting this! I have wondered about the meaning of the statue. AND NOW WE KNOW

Anonymous said...

my God, i thought you were going to chip in with some decisive insght at the end there, not leave it with ‘we leave it to you to decide’.