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Ishmael by Daniel Quinn Inspires Controversial, Award-Winning Sculpture

Dan Collett was a fine arts major at Northern Kentucky University, when he read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The image of Ishmael in his cage being examined and viewed by spectators inspired the college student to take on a new project, a sculpture. The result, entitled "Ishmael's Cage", makes its statement in iron and wood and features a man slouched in a cage. The twist, however, is that the shackles on his feet, the cage door and the roof all remain open. Yet, the man remains in the cage, head down, nonetheless.

"The idea is to make people think about their physical environments and things in their lives. People feel burdened because they let their problems become shackles and chains that weigh them down," said Mr. Collett in an article by Andrea Tortora in The Cincinnati Enquirer. "That's what's holding him down," Collett said of the man in the cage. "He can't free his mind."

The piece made a definite impression. First, Northern Kentucky University chose to purchase the sculpture for $1500 and find a permanent resiedence for it on their campus. This was, incidentally, not the first time a campus has chosen to display an Ishmael-related sculpture. Salisbury State University in Maryland features a sculpture of Ishmael by Bart Walter on its campus.

But it wasn't long before, through a misinterpretation, some students began to believe the statue was portraying a racist message. In order to fix the problem, Collett wrote a statement of explanation, which he placed near the sculpture and tried to talk to the viewers and clear up the misconceptions.

"Nobody wants to be called a racist," Mr. Collett said. "We need to just annihilate the concept of race, stop looking at color and look at each other as people. And what better environment than the academic environment, where we're supposed to be learning to save the world."

Learn more in these articles from The Cincinnati Enquirer: Sculpture's message lost and Sculptor makes cut at NKU.

Learn more about sculpture inspired by Ishmael and Daniel Quinn.

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