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Harvard Students Assigned Sculpture Project Involving Chicken Slaughter

November 6, 1987

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ An art teacher at Harvard assigned her students to adopt a live chicken for a day, then take it to a slaughterhouse, watch it be processed, and cook and eat it before making a sculpture from the bones.

Ritsuko Taho, a lecturer in the school’s Visual and Environmental Studies Department who teaches ″Fundamentals of Sculpture,″ said Thursday the task was intended to reduce the distance between art and object.

″Because they will have eaten it, the chicken will be part of (the students’) bodies,″ Taho said. ″This experience will expand their imagination and understanding.″

But some students in the class and members of animal rights groups complained that this week’s assignment promoted cruelty to animals.

Three of the 17 students refused it, said senior Hannah Gittleman. Gittleman said she couldn’t undertake the project because she was apprehensive about developing a relationship with the chicken.

″It would be like a pet, and to take your pet and have it killed is not a comfortable thing for me,″ she said.

Gittleman and two other students took their chickens, which Taho provided, to an animal shelter. The whole episode made her decide not to eat chicken until ″I can kill one,″ she said.

Harvard’s Visual and Environmental Studies Department has no classes on Friday and Taho could not be reached to discuss whether her students were required to complete the assignment.

Leah Zuch, executive director of the Cambridge Committee for Responsible Research, an animal rights group, said she thought the project was ″disgusting.″

″That’s an awful way to think of art,″ she said. ″I think it’s detrimental to art.″

Junior Alexander Kahn, after witnessing the killing of his chicken Thursday, said, ″It’s a very interesting process to watch. It’s something you don’t usually see.″

″I’m just trying to sort out how I feel about watching this chicken lose its life″ because he had never seen an animal die, Kahn said.

Gitanjali S. Dodner said she didn’t mind the assignment, except for the smell of the slaughterhouse, because ″it didn’t really bother me to kill something to eat.″

Dodner kept the chicken in her dorm room before she had it killed Thursday. ″It’s better to eat something that you had a relationship with because you respect the fact that it was alive,″ she said.

Kahn said, ″It’s more than just making a sculpture from chicken bones. Some people went through a very emotional experience and that’s going to reflect itself in the final project.″

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