Karel Gomes’s Hagar is installed in a biblical sculpture garden in his native Netherlands. Even within the context of such a garden, one would perhaps not recognize the sculpture as a representation of Hagar since she is depicted entirely alone—without her son and without even a jug of water (her most common identifying attribute).
This sculpture could represent Hagar at different points in her story as it is related in Genesis: her entry into Abraham’s household, her abuse by Sarah, her first escape to the wilderness, her return to the household, or her expulsion. Given the lack of contextual clues, one might also interpret this figure as a contemporary African refugee. She wears a head covering and a thin dress. She has a full nose and lips, and her feet are bare. Her lack of belongings suggests she is without resources and without options. She is stoically resigned to her fate but her resolute expression suggests that she is still intent on survival.
Although Sarah ‘gives’ Hagar to Abraham as a wife, Hagar remains enslaved. Her connection to Abraham and her pregnancy do not exempt her from mistreatment. Furthermore, Hagar and her child are not safe even after carrying out Sarah’s plan. Life within the household continued to involve abuse. But Gomes’s work offers a glimpse of how life outside the control of the paterfamilias could have been even worse than that: a possible death sentence.
This work illustrates how the Hagar story is another instance in which a woman’s body is used for the benefit of those in power. This is an all-too familiar narrative of expendability of women and their bodies. Like those today who are fleeing persecution in many forms, Hagar faces limited and life-altering choices, but despite the human and natural forces affecting her, she is determined to live.
Junior, Nyasha. 2019. Reimagining Hagar: Blackness and Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Williams, Delores S. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (Maryknoll: Orbis Books)
8 And the child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 11And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. 12But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named. 13And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” 14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Let me not look upon the death of the child.” And as she sat over against him, the child lifted up his voice and wept. 17And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. 18Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation.” 19Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink. 20And God was with the lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.