University Museums

Title: Forbidden Fruit
Name: Sculpture
Date: 1991
Medium: Terra-cotta and metal
Dimensions: 120 x 82 13/16 x 36 in. (304.8 x 210.3 x 91.4 cm)
Classification: Sculpture
Credit Line: An Iowa Art in State Buildings Project for the Molecular Biology Building. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Location: Iowa State University, Molecular Biology, Atrium
Object Number: U91.75
More Information
At the base of the atrium staircase stands the sculpture Forbidden Fruit. This female figure recalls the pose and symbolism of ancient goddesses. Many of the goddess figures that have been excavated hold snakes in their outstretched arms. Snakes symbolize the powers of regeneration since they are "reborn" by shedding their skin. Instead of holding snakes in each hand, however, Leicester's sculpture holds strands of DNA that she has just split apart. In a sense, she is giving birth, since DNA holds the key of life and reproduces by splitting. This goddess is wearing a metallic contamination suit similar to those used in some scientific experiments. Her brain is exposed through the top of the helmet and from these roots the phylogenetic tree extends its branches.

The G-Nome Project fully integrates art and architecture into the Molecular Biology Building. Since the artist, Andrew Leicester, was selected at the start of the project, he was able to work with the architectural firm Hansen Lind Meyer, Inc. to incorporate the art into the building's design. As a result, Iowa State University has gained a striking example of the successful merging of art and architecture, as well as a building rich in meaning and function.

When Leicester was commissioned by Iowa State to create this public art, he began to research the kinds of activities that would take place there. He found information at conferences, by attending lectures, by reading books, and through conversation with scientists and students. He kept a sketchbook of ideas and drawings on the subject. It became clear to him that the most debated area of current investigation in the field of molecular biology was transgenetic animal research with both the academic community and the public expressing their opinions. Philosophers, sociologists, animal scientists, and economists were among the many who were discussing the potential legal and economic implications of genetic research.