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The Accusing Look: The Abjection of Hagar in Art

In: Religion and the Arts
Author: J. Cheryl Exum1
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  • 1 University of Sheffield
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Abstract

For all the emotional tension the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael from the household of Abraham suggests, the biblical text is remarkably restrained. This is not the case in art, where the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael is a popular theme, and we find the expulsion depicted with a good deal of attention to the possible feelings of the various characters (not only Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael but often Sarah and Isaac as well, though the text does not mention their presence when Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away). In particular, when artists visualize the scene, they offer viewers what the text withholds, Hagar's and Ishmael's point of view, with the result that the viewer, unlike the reader, is openly invited to feel sympathy for them. The article examines narrative transactions that reveal the biblical writers's unease (guilt?) about the treatment of Hagar and Ishmael by approaching the text in the light of selected paintings in which the apparent problematic textual lack of sympathy for Hagar's and Ishmael's plight is foregrounded, even if the expulsion is accepted as necessary.

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