Hagar in the Wilderness; an Iconography with a Renewed Meaning.

One of my favorite paintings is by the neo-classical painter Camille Corot and is named ‘Hagar in the Wilderness’. Painted in 1835 the painting illustrates the story of Abraham’s servant Hagar, who bore Abraham’s son Ishmael. Later, when Isaac was born to Abraham’s wife Sarah, Hagar fled into the desert of Beersheba with Ishmael. For this painting, Corot chose the moment of divine salvation of the mother and child found in Genesis 21:15–17.

The painting depicts Hagar’s son Ishmael laying prostrate (almost dead) in the desert while Hagar is pleading that God can see her son as an angel overlooks the scene.

If you were told nothing about the biblical characters or that this canvas was painted in the middle of the nineteenth century, would you mistake it for a present-day scene in Iraq, Syria, Libya or Yemen? This scene appears utterly contemporary and looks as true today as it would have 4000 years ago the time given in the old Testament of the Abraham and Hagar story.

But what really gets me about this scene is that it is a universal symbol of how humanity has and continues to treat the worlds weakest and most vulnerable among us (overwhelmingly women and children) now and throughout the ages here represented by the iconography of a hopeless suffering woman pleading to her God, to save her dying child.

You will also notice the absence of male characters in this scene. How revealing considering men are often the cause of so much of the suffering of women. In Abraham’s time it was deemed normal to purchase a slave woman for the husband should his wife not be able to bear him a child within the first two first years of marriage.

We are all distant onlookers of the horrors that have been playing out with such intensity over the last 30 years in the Middle East (since operation Desert Storm). All this strife again is caused by men fighting men, with no consideration to the pain inflicted on their daughters, mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers who get swept into the chaos of war much against their will.

And while we here in the West are seldom confronted with anything that would disturb our peace of mind. We revel in our “biased understanding” of what’s really happening over there, feeding on the platitudes so willfully dispensed by our sell-out media and power elites. Clichés like; these people are tribal, or that the conflict is Sunni against Shia, as if those two groups have never lived peacefully together before outsiders invaded them to divide and rule them.

How can humanity still allow itself to live in a world where nothing but absolutely nothing is done to think of helping those poor souls over there? How can we call ourselves civilized when our leaders, war mongers and power brokers continue to operate in this heinous manner, and with our silent approval? When is this going to end? How long will women have to suffer the idiocy and mendacity of men? How long will images of the Hagars of this world continue to haunt us?

Little Girl with Sad Eyes

In more modern times, Hagar is often admired as the symbol of downtrodden women who persevere. Let’s all hope and pray for the coming of this new age; the return to sanity in the Middle East and it ‘The Age of Hagar’.

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