Photo by Scott Ableman.
The massive Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial created by Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin out of 159 pieces of pink Chinese granite has been unveiled yesterday in Washington DC. While King’s own son, Martin Luther King III says Lei has done a “good job”, others are wondering out loud why an American artist couldn’t have been commissioned instead.
A few choice excerpts of what people are saying:
Ann Lau, chairman of the Visual Artists Guild, a human rights organization in Los Angeles:
“Why are we letting the symbol of our human rights, the symbol of freedom for all Americans, to now be partially wiped out by a country – and the product that came from it – that represents repression and slavery?”
Stone-carver Clint Button (responding to the argument that America had sort of stopped making monuments of this size and scale):
“Stone doesn’t care what color you are, it tells the truth, and the truth that this stone tells is indicative of the process, because it missed the mark, and that’s really sad… Everybody says it’s awesome, incredible, and then they say, ‘I can’t believe they couldn’t find anybody in America to do it.’ “
Politico’s Roger Simon backed him up:
Jackson has worked long and hard to get the King memorial built, and he is deserving of recognition for his efforts and dedication. But his statement is pure baloney. The sculptures at the site are made up of 159 blocks of granite, and I think the United States of America — somehow — could have scoured its citizenry and found people who knew how to put together 159 blocks of granite.
Even though the King “Stone of Hope” sculpture is huge — 30-feet high, compared with 19 feet 6 inches for the seated figure of Abraham Lincoln and 19 feet for the standing figure of Thomas Jefferson at their memorials — I really feel there is a union hall somewhere in this country right now with people sitting around who can handle a 30-foot project.
Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy:
Let’s face it: There really is something peculiar about having an artist from communist China sculpt the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial statue. And, yes, it would have been fantastic had an African American sculptor been chosen instead.
I do not believe that such sentiments are racist, as some have charged. They are deeply rooted in America’s racial past and ought not be so easily dismissed …
Surely, having a black sculptor of a black civil rights icon — working on ground once toiled by black slaves, on the National Mall, designed and surveyed with the help of a black mathematician and astronomer Benjamin Banneker — would have added to the King memorial’s symbolic power.
So, yes, it stings when, centuries later, creators of the King memorial say they couldn’t find a qualified black sculptor.
And guess who Stanley Wrzyszczynski of the Newark Advocate saw in the statue?
My initial reaction … was of the body language of Mao Zedong. My recollections of the various stills and videos of the life of King usually showed him hand in hand with others, hands clasped or reaching out to touch another, or gesturing above a lectern as he spoke. I don’t ever recall his body language being that of his arms folded over his chest. Yet there it is, larger than life …
True, body language in sculpture comes across as a certain style of presentation — naturalist, social realist, expressionist, etc. The body language of the late Martin Luther King — in a crowded hall giving a speech, walking up to receive the Nobel or walking arm in arm down a street with other Americans to right a wrong — was totally unlike anything portrayed by Lei Yixin. After addressing the huge throng on the mall in Washington, King did not fold his arms and look down at the crowd. The stance of a big boss man does not befit the figure of a man who preached and practiced nonviolent determination./blockquote>
AP’s report on the MLK memorial dedication in DC: