Will the centerpiece statue for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC be marked “Made in China?”
Well, not exactly. According to published reports, unable to find a suitable black American, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Project Foundation commissioned the services of Lei Yixin, one of China’s “master” sculptors who was said to be selected based solely “on his artistic ability and experience carving large-scale granite projects…”
As one might imagine, some people weren’t too happy with the choice. And hence, the website, www.kingisours.com was created, spearheaded by Atlanta, Georgia artist Gilbert Young, who has said, “We’ve been sold out; our culture has been sold out.”
This current controversy is somewhat similar to the one surrounding Maya Lin, an Asian-American architecture student who was selected to create the Vietnam War Memorial. Her challenges were chronicled in the documentary, Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision. The end result was a powerful and moving memorial befitting of the soldiers’ sacrifice.
That controversy is like a walk in the park compared to this one.
Yixin replaced Ed Dwight, a black sculptor, “who has designed about 90 memorials, a number of them in honor of King…But Dwight acknowledged from the outset that he couldn’t sculpt large pieces of granite and suggested the design committee find someone to work under him who could.” (Excuse me Mr. Dwight, shouldn’t you be the one working under him/her since you don’t know how to carve largee pieces of granite
Harry Johnson, president of the Foundation, said, “Lei was chosen…because he can carve stone that’s 30 feet high.”
And there is the question of the rumored $25 million donation from Chinese government which some believe helped influence the selection. The budget for the memorial is $100 million.
A spokesperson from the Foundation the denied this stating, “We have had no discussions with the Chinese government prior to or post the sculptor selections. We have had to no internal discussions with about contribution from the Chinese government.”
So what should we take away from this?
1. Support Black Artists – If you want to protest, protest the decimation of arts programs in America’s public schools. It is in those halls and classrooms where artists are created and nurtured.
2. Show You Care and Write a Check – It’s too sad that the Foundation has had such a difficult time raising money for this project. The shortage of funding truly shows how much we care about King and the sacrifices he made for our advancement. Unfortunately, this controversy may serve to discourage much needed donations.