Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Martin Luther King Memorial Compromised

I’ve seen photographs in the news of the recent unveiling of the memorial to Martin Luther King in Washington, DC.  To put it briefly, I was struck by the fact that among the various inscriptions included within the memorial, none of them involved a mention of God.  That seems strange to me – a memorial to a Baptist minister, basing his movement so strongly in the word of God, that ignores the fundamental impetus of the concept of freedom for all.

Also conspicuously absent is what is surely among his most famous quotes:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

These two examples are bad enough, but I also continued to be bothered by the artistic aspect of the statue.  I’m not an art critic, but I was a Kremlinologist at one point and continued my interest, and I can recognise the school of Socialist Realism when I see it, whether it is deliberate or osmotic.  How unfortunate, I thought, that a character so embedded in our current culture is rendered in a style so associated with brutal political repression.

It turns out that it is much worse.
The MLK Memorial was created by Chinese master sculptor Lei Yixin and the Dingli Stone Carving Company out of 159 pieces of pink Chinese granite, and, its defenders say, is intended to embrace Dr. King's legacy as a global icon.
"Martin Luther King is not only a hero of Americans, he also is a hero of the world, and he pursued the universal dream of the people of the world," Mr. Lei said….
[T]he creator is a state artist who has made dozens of heroic depictions of Mao Zedong, the brutal founder of Communist China. Seen this way, the statue is a corruption of King's liberation message and a PR coup for the Chinese government. 
"Why are we letting the symbol of our human rights, the symbol of freedom for all Americans, to now be partially wiped out by a country – and the product that came from it – that represents repression and slavery?" asks Ann Lau, chairman of the Visual Artists Guild, a human rights organization in Los Angeles.
Why indeed?  It turns out that Americans don’t do this sort of work anymore.  Read the article.

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