You’re furious at the plans to end free education at Cooper Union, an institution long applauded as one of the progressive beacons of 19th-century education. You’re an art student and join 10 other art students in a protest action that includes the occupation of your school’s clocktower. Now, how do you symbolically choose to end your occupation? Stage Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” of course.
The Cooper 11, as they have come to be known, staged a ceremonial “Last Supper” on Sunday night during their final meal before announcing plans the next day to end their occupation — you can see the full image on the Free Cooper Union Facebook page.
The tableau includes the venerable Peter Cooper, who founded the school in 1848, as the Jesus figure in the center of the image. The symbolism is obvious and reinforces what one of the protesters told Hyperallergic on Monday: “I think ultimately it’s a longer-term project than this occupation, which is just one action.”
The real work comes next, as any Christian or history buff knows, for the longevity of Christianity happened after the Last Supper, as the disciples reach faraway lands to plant the seeds of Christian ideals in minds that would eventually flower into a cultural empire spanning every continent. This is just the beginning, the image suggests.
Aaron Graham, a fourth-year art student at Cooper Union, explained to Hyperallergic that the image came about when they knew they were leaving the next day; someone made the suggestion to stage the dinner, and they all became excited. “Peter Cooper as the Jesus figure and him rising again is one way to look at it,” Graham said.
The Cooper 11, all art students, often turned to their creativity throughout the occupation as a way to grapple with the time in the clocktower. They used any tools they had available and made work or documented their activities as the days progressed.
One has to feel bad for the figure in the middle left (wearing the baseball cap) who was left to play the role of Judas Iscariot in this symbolic tableau — for those who may not know, Judas is the apostle who, according to the Christian Bible, betrayed Jesus. Then again, symbols are often meant to be challenged and changed.
It’s a truism nowadays that no protest movement is complete without strong imagery, and it’s great to see that the “disciples” of Peter Cooper turned to Renaissance art to express their final moments. Nowadays, great art never dies: it’s simply reinterpreted, giffed, or meme-ified.
Next: The Art Created in the Cooper Clocktower