Wednesday, August 24, 2011

MLK as Mao

So they wanted to put a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington. Fine. No problem with honoring the man who brought the second-class treatment of blacks in this country to the forefront of the national consciousness so that it could be corrected.

But couldn't they have come up with a better memorial than this?

Is this the way we want to remember Martin Luther King, Jr?
The statue of MLK emerging from a block of marble has caused considerable controversy.  Aaron Worthing at Patterico says:
Arms crossed, looking stern.  I am not precisely sure what kind of pose I would have liked to see, but I don’t think that is the right one for Dr. King.  I see Dr. King as ultimately a man of profound love; this guy looks like he is going to tell you to get off his lawn.
One astute commenter at Patterico says that it looks like "Han Solo frozen in carbonite." 

Ron Radosh had even more:

Denver based artist Ed Dwight, who was on the planning committee for the King memorial, was anything but happy. Dr. King, Dwight said, “would be turning over in his grave if he knew that the artist who sculpted King was from a Communist country.” Others added that they thought King looked confrontational, and that his face looked Asian rather than American.

One thing struck me as I looked at the photos of the King Memorial. Having toured China, and having seen scores of huge Mao statues still on display throughout the country, I immediately thought that the King Memorial looks very similar to all those giant Mao statues glorifying the “Great Helmsman” in the People’s Republic of China.
That's kind of a problem.  Whatever MLK's actual history -- and he was accused of being a communist -- that is not how Americans want to remember him.  Americans want to remember him as, to quote Radosh, "our greatest civil rights leader, a man dedicated to non-violence, Ghandian principles applied to oppression within a democratic society."  That is what he preached, that is what he practiced.

This statue is not that.  It doesn't even look like him.  It looks more like Mao.

Which is no coincidence.  The memorial's sculptor is Chinese national Le Yixin.  He is most well-known for his statues of Mao Zedong.

When you hire a man who makes statues of tyrants, don't be surprised when he makes a statue of a tyrant.

Which is to say that the people who selected Le have only themselves to blame for the negative reception.

But the statue may be far worse than MLK as Mao.  Perhaps it's just me, being overly sensitive to art and art history after my trip to Rome and Florence, but I wonder why people don't find the statue insulting.

The problem is the format of MLK emerging, or trying to escape from, the marble.  As I recall from my trip to the Academy in Florence, this particular format was "pioneered" by Michaelangelo, though it was more like he left the sculptures unfinished.

Michaelangelo's statues were to have adorned the tomb of Pope Julius II, but when the design for the tomb changed and the statues were no longer needed, he basically gave them away.  Four of them sit, unfinished, in the Academy.  They are called the Prisoners, as in, they are prisoners of the stone, trying to escape.  This MLK statue bears more than a passing resemblance to the Prisoners.

Two others are at the Louvre.  Those two, and the entire series as a whole, are called the Slaves.

Not a good association for a statue honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I can't believe they couldn't have come up with something better than this.

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