Editor’s note: Adrienne L. Childs, Ph.D., is an independent scholar and art historian, adjunct curator of the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and a 2022 Driskel Prize recipient for contributions to the African-American art field. was awarded. She is the author of her forthcoming book, Ornamental Blackness: The Black Figure in European Decorating Arts. Her views expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinions on CNN.
Arms and hands can represent the full spectrum of a human’s physical and emotional life. Gestures can express strength, protest, aggression, fear, love, hate, passion, comfort, and more. The pumping biceps of Rosie the Riveter and the soaring fists of John Carlos and Tommie Smith have conveyed some of the most powerful cultural messages in American history.
Artist Hank Willis Thomas uses the powerful gestural language that has been part of his iconic repertoire to portray American icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott.・Created “The Embrace”, a public monument to the King. .
Unveiled at Boston Common on January 13, “The Embrace” is an excerpt of Dr. King’s and Mrs. King’s arms embracing from a photograph taken when Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In that picture, Thomas captures the marital bond, the warmth between them, the support that has sustained them throughout their marriage and the years that followed.
The framework for the composition of his king’s monument is not an isolated statement for Thomas. Hands and arms detached from the body are the artist’s trademark symbols. He’s used abbreviated embodiment to tell an epic tale of violence, sports-industrial complexes, and now the power of love.
In 2014’s “Raise Up,” you encounter ten black men’s heads and raised arms. These fragmented body parts reference a photo of a South African man forced to adopt this vulnerable position during a group health check, but it also tells a lot about the crisis. The tangle that black men have experienced from violent “official” forces throughout American history. Such layered references are inherent in Thomas’ practice.
From social justice to social betterment, Thomas used a single bronze arm pointing to the sky in his 2019 public sculpture “Unity,” placed near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Bronze may suggest a black arm in the context of Thomas’ larger body of work, but “Unity” gives a sense of universal and purposeful upward dominance conveyed in a furtive gesture. Perhaps its elegant simplicity makes it easier to read than the intricate composition of “The Embrace.”
Dr. and Mrs. King have some of the most famous faces in American history, and great power is associated with those faces, but Thomas once again emphasizes the expressive potential of the arm. I made it
I heard Thomas say in a recent commentary that the King and his portrait of doing the hard work of social justice are under a very heavy burden. King’s face has become an exercise indicator at the expense of many others.
“The Embrace” seeks to reveal the universality of love and support in a way that is unleashed from Dr. King’s ubiquitous face. Who can challenge this brave intention? In fact, many, including members of the royal family, have praised his vision. But his approach has resulted in resistance and a nasty reaction to the monument.
Some complain about the conceptual nature of the monument. Some lamented that it did not adequately represent the monumentality of Dr. King’s Legacy. Does the focus on love detract from the fact that the struggle is ongoing? This was clearly not the artist’s intention.
But when sensational statements are hyped up on social media, they gain exponential traction, taking on more weight than they deserve. It should come as no surprise that sexual references have become a staple of complaint factories.
Even hilarious comedian Leslie Jones blamed the statue, claiming that the sexual innuendo “can’t go unnoticed.” But as comedies often do, her routine exposed both the controversy and its absurdity.
Memorial to Dr. King in 2011 Created for Washington, D.C., perhaps the most politically charged site of American historic buildings. Was the memorial too conventional? Did it really look like Dr. King? Were Chinese-American artists in a position to represent African-American heroes? These questions cannot be answered.
In 2011, after being commissioned to create work for the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, African-American artist Fred Wilson was canceled before the statue “E Pluribus Unum” was installed.
The design is an image of a frightened slave excerpted from Soldiers and Sailors. Monument in Indianapolis. The original figure was a symbol of black submission. Wilson’s work, which reframes the human figure as an image of empowerment, was a key intervention often used by Wilson. However, the African-American community objected to the expression of submission, and the project was eventually abandoned.
Thomas’ ode to King’s legacy comes at a time when the debate over monuments has become part of our society as we ponder America’s violent and racist past and present. Confederate monuments built as much to uphold white supremacy as to commemorate past glories have been attacked and dismantled as vestiges of the systemic racism advanced by visual culture. Indeed, art is an important tool for exercising and questioning political power.
For too long, stories of black resistance, struggle, and achievement have been absent from America’s vast network of festive statuary.The number of monuments to Dr. King is increasing Other African Americans, such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, commemorate warriors for social justice and challenge many monuments to great white men.
Rene Attell, a visiting professor of Africana studies at Brown University, has delved into the history of American monuments dealing with America’s enslaved past, and recently published four black monuments discussing issues they encountered in the process of building the monuments. I was having a conversation with an artist…in America.
For decades we have faced the inherent inequity of public art. The foray into the turbulent world of Thomas the Brave historic monument has never been easier.
There are countless monuments to Dr. King across the country, and indeed around the world. Most are representative depictions that tend to be more palatable to the general public. Thomas’ “The Embrace” becomes another entry point into the business of memorializing Dr. King. I applaud his decision to take risks and focus on love and compassion in his writing.