D.C. is abuzz with activity with Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial dedication events, but there’s still plenty of debate over the memorial’s design and the nationality of the sculptor.
Some criticize that King’s face is too stern or militant. Others take issue with the selection of Lei Yixin of China, rather than an African American, as the sculptor. The project’s leaders have said there were no qualified black sculptors who could work with stones of this size or type. The Washington Post‘s Courtland Milloy writes, “Who gets the job? A Chinese national with an apparent preference for the heroic and authoritarian.” He continues:
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.
We asked DCentric readers on Facebook and Twitter to post their thoughts and comments on the memorial’s design and sculptor. A few responded on Twitter by recalling King’s message of unity among races:
On our Facebook page, commenter Besufekad Tadesse writes the controversy around Lei designing the King memorial mirrors the initial criticism over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by Maya Lin of Chinese descent.
The key is in whether or not the artist took proper care and respect of both the person being memorialized and the public that would enjoy the monument. As far as his stern face, the struggle to provide access to jobs and attain freedom amidst state-sponsored segregation and oppression was nothing short of a serious issue, and creating a strong look on Dr. King’s face would remind us all to be wise enough not to forget that.
But Ruth Peterson counters the controversy over the King sculptor differs from the one surrounding the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial since Lin is an American citizen, whereas Lei is a Chinese national. “He has done several sculptures of Chairman Ma,” Peterson writes, “So many people question why he was given the task to do King’s image when he had done so many images of a former Communist leader.” She continues:
As to the “stern” look on his face, I don’t see it. I think that maybe some people feel that unless a black man is smiling with his big pearly white teeth showing that he is somehow threatening to other people. To me, his figure says I’m a thoughtful, serious man working on serious problems for my people and my country.
Have you visited the memorial yet? What’s your take on King’s expression or the choice of Lei as the sculptor? Post your comments below.