April 2017

Chinese artist chosen for MLK monument

Submitted by Adrian on

Original Facebook Post:

Yes this article is 10 years old and the monument is finished and dedicated but i ask the question now, "Was this a slap in the face to Black People to have a monument to one of our most famous/influential figures rendered by someone of a different experience?"
I was surprised (and somewhat disappointed) when I learned of this.

The posted Article:

State NAACP joins protest of Chinese artist chosen for MLK monument

The California branch of the NAACP has joined a growing protest against the selection of a Chinese artist to sculpt the tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. planned for the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The monument, expected to be finished by April for the 40th anniversary of King's 1968 assassination, has overcome many approval hurdles in the past decade. But now it faces criticism by black artists, American granite workers and others who are angry about the sculptor chosen as the lead artist, both because of his nationality and his history as an artist. Protesters also say American granite rather than Chinese granite should be used for the sculpture.

Sculptor Lei Yixin of Changsha, China, is one of his country's pre-eminent artists and has done government-commissioned pieces of Chinese national figures. He was chosen in February by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Project, whose officials discovered him at a Minnesota stone-carving symposium in 2006.

The California NAACP is the first chapter of the civil rights organization to pass a resolution condemning the choice, calling it a decision to "outsource the production of the monument to Dr. King to the People's Republic of China, the country with the worst record of human rights violations and civil rights abuses in the world."

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I received the following comment on Facebook:

Huh. I am surprised and a little disappointed that you would ask the question -- coming, as I do, from a family of artists.

Art transcends the human experience. The artist can be transfigured by their artistic experience and thus inspire all of us. Both of my completely vanilla artist parents painted sublime portraits of Native American subjects -- one my daddy did of an elderly chief utterly bespoke his story and his suffering and brings me to tears every time I see it.

Artists transcend. Martin Luther King was a human for the ages and for all peoples who have struggled for their rights. He had a certain posture, a body type, particular lips and cheekbones and hair that any fine sculptor could capture. His story, his suffering, his nobility were universal. To suggest that only an artist who shared his genetic and societal background could capture his essence in sculpture is both to deny the artist their inspiration and MLK's universality.

If MLK doesn't belong to me as much as you, then why are we Baha'is?

Love you, old friend.

This is my response:

I’m sorry you are disappointed in the question I asked but I feel it is a legitimate question.  I do agree that one’s ethnicity/background does not mean one is not able to do a project like this (the MLK Monument) justice.  That is not the point I was looking to make.  I (and many Black people) see it as another instance where Black people have been denied our standing as a people in this nation.

History is full of examples where Black people have received the “short end of the stick”.  Laws have been past, targeting Black people that put up into the system so our rights can be denied up “legally”.  We have been told that “separate but equal” is the law of the land when the reality was we got plenty of separate but no equal.  We were told by “polite” society that we did not have the intelligence to fly aircraft, be engineers, vote and that we were even incapable of being able to quarterback a football team.  For 400 years we have been enslaved, attacked, persecuted, arrested, beaten and lynched for simply being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” or because someone had to pay.

Dr. King was a symbol to Black people as well as the rest of the nation and when he was assassinated he was considered an enemy of this nation, a trouble maker and was hated and despised.   Dr. King accomplished a great deal for Black people in spite of the attacks sponsored by the government.  

The difficulty as I see it is that the building of Dr. King’s Monument is in truth another example of how the success of his work was “watered down” and diminished.  Dr. King’s crowning achievement should have been the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but it was turned into a lack-luster Bill where the teeth of it were removed when the wording got changed from “Black People” to “Minorities”.  By changing this EVERYONE (especially women) were able to step in line ahead of those who did the work, to enjoy the benefits while Black people again got left out as all the effort went to those who had little to do with getting this law passed.

My disappointment is not that Lei Yixin could not do a good job at sculpting the monument.  Dr. King started out working to the rights and for the freedom of Black people, expanding to poor people later on (because of common issues), but still his focus was Black people because we were on the bottom rung of society.  To me (and others) having one who is not Black doing the sculpture is like being denied “washing the body of a family member, a loved one who has passed”.  It is the right of the family to be able to honor our loved ones, and this should have been an honor for one of Dr. King’s Family.

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