A new memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. opened on the National Mall in Washington this week. It’s the only memorial on the Mall that isn’t dedicated to a president or the fallen soldiers in a war.
There have been some criticisms leveled at the design of the monument. An ABC News report describes the layout:
Inspiration for the design came from a line in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered 48 years ago on the National Mall during the March on Washington: “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
“King becomes the stone of hope, so it’s designed to be that he himself, the man, the image of King emerges from that stone that comes from the mountain of despair,” said Thomas Luebke, secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a federal design review agency.
Visitors can walk to the main memorial through the “Mountain of Despair,” a large rock cut in two. At the center of the memorial stands the “Stone of Hope,” with a statue of King on the far side, overlooking the Tidal Basin. Encircling the monument are marble walls on which 14 of King’s most famous quotes from his speeches, sermons and writings are etched.
But missing from the quotes lining the memorial is his iconic “I Have a Dream” line. The architects say they chose to not include the line since so much of the memorial was already based on the speech, and they wanted to highlight his other celebrated passages.
No matter what the reason, it seems odd to leave King’s most famous quote off the memorial. More problematic is the depiction of the civil-rights leader, who looks rather… stern as he emerges from the Stone of Hope:
Bear in mind that he’s thirty feet tall. It doesn’t quite line up with my personal image of Dr. King, although it would be an awesome design for a statue of Magneto.
Artistic quibbles pale in comparison to the provenance of the statue, which was made in China, by an artist whose work includes statues of Chairman Mao. As reported by the UK Telegraph:
There has been controversy over the choice of Lei Yixin, a 57-year-old master sculptor from Changsha in Hunan province, to carry out the work. Critics have openly asked why a black, or at least an American, artist was not chosen and even remarked that Dr King appears slightly Asian in Mr Lei’s rendering.
Mr Lei, who has in the past carved two statues of Mao Tse-tung, one of which stands in the former garden of Mao Anqing, the Chinese leader’s son, carried out almost all of the work in Changsha.
More than 150 granite blocks, weighing some 1,600 tons, were then shipped from Xiamen to the port of Baltimore, and reassembled by a team of 100 workmen, including ten Chinese stone masons brought over specifically for the project.
This did not sit well with at least one American sculptor:
Ed Dwight, a sculptor in Denver, said Dr King would be “turning over in his grave” if he knew his likeness had been conceived by someone living under a Communist regime.
“He would rise up from his grave and walk into their offices and go, ‘How dare you?'”
So… they had meetings and stuff while they were designing this memorial, right? Did anyone discuss the “optics” of outsourcing this important American monument away from a job-starved American workforce and sending the work to China? Was this really a job American sculptors couldn’t do?
Mr Lei was chosen after the memorial’s fund-raisers observed him at work at a stone carver’s symposium in Minnesota. Amid the criticism, the architects in charge of the project said that they had visited Mr Lei’s studio in Changsha to find he had already carved several versions of the work.
He has also prepared a bronze bust of Barack Obama which he intends to gift to the president.
Oh. That makes it all right, then.