ArtsApril 12, 2012 at 5:31 am

Campus Gems: Peace Symbol (1967)

Looking for a chill, yet historically pertinent, picnic or nap location this weekend? Forget Robert Indiana’s LOVE statue and Claes Oldenburg’s Split Button — way too cliche. Right outside Van Pelt stands Peace Symbol, a sculpture with quite a history that serves as an emblem of and a witness to student activism during the Vietnam War. Designed in a 1967 collaborative project between Penn fine arts students and former sculpture professor Robert Engman, the simple but evocative sculpture served as a base camp in the late 60s and early 70s for students to unite and hold anti–war demonstrations and petition drives. They were furiously determined to change the mind of the University administration, who had refrained from taking an official stance on America’s military involvement in the conflict. Another more tragic event that occurred in front of Peace Symbol in 1996 was the death by self–immolation of political activist Kathy Change, whose site–specific act recalled the last stands made by Buddhist monks and nuns in Vietnam. The current generation of Quakers might consider peace signs to be less meaningful and hackneyed due to overuse, but the Peace Symbol on our campus has weathered the years and still retains the weight of its universal message despite its seemingly delicate structure.

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