|Yeah, I don't understand that sculpture either|
The U.S. State Department has purchased for $400,000 a reproduction of that sculpture you see in the photo above, and will display it at the new U.S. Embassy that is now being constructed in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Acquisition of “Camel Contemplating Needle” by John Baldessari. Includes production cost related to the procurement of representational artwork to be displayed at the new US Embassy Islamabad and reproduction rights.
Representational artwork in embassies is intended for cross-cultural understanding through the visual arts, or something like that. So, what does that sculpture say about how the United States sees its relations with Pakistan? Is one of us the camel and the other the needle?
The only description of the sculpture I could find doesn't offer an interpretation:
John Baldessari's sculpture Camel (albino) Contemplating Needle highlights a confluence of belief from several different cultures. References to the camel and the needle appear in the Quran, Bible, and the Midrash [an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures].
A life-size dromedary with its neck extended inquisitively eyes a super-sized needle in a way which makes the viewer think it could actually pass through the needle's eye. The colorless beast with striking blue eyes is simultaneously intriguing and peculiar especially when stripped of its pigment and fur.
Interfaith dialog is extremely tricky ground for public diplomacy. In the first place, I don't think the camel-and-needle story means quite the same thing in its Koranic version (here) as it does in the New Testament. And, even if the Pakistanis interpret the sculpture in light of the biblical parable, surely they would see the United States in the role of the rich man who wouldn't give up his worldly goods in order to enter the Kingdom of God, and why do we want to send that message?
Must we always do such abstruse artwork? Wouldn't something more accessible be a better choice, I mean, if the goal is actually to achieve cross-cultural understanding and not just to put out art for art's sake?