Mao Luther King?

I don’t like the look or feel of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C. For one, he looks fat, and he wasn’t particularly fat. And there’s something weirdly Maoist about it—a throwback to 20th century communist propaganda art. It simply doesn’t have the feel of sculpture suited to a democratic country.

I know that Lincoln is oversized on the Mall, but there’s just something wrong about this King depiction. I can’t put my finger on it.

File:Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial at Night.jpg


Image source: Wikipedia Commons.


UPDATE: Curiously, the sculptor is Chinese, not an American. His name is Lei Yixin. And he went to art school in the years immediately following the Cultural Revolution. Here’s the sculptor before his totalitarian-feeling, overwrought production.

File:Stone of Hope with sculptor Lei Yixin.jpg


Can we start over?

Image Source: Wikipedia Commons.


UPDATE II: I think I’m able to articulate my objection to the memorial a bit more clearly after letting my repulsion percolate a bit:

King looks like he has a police state backing him rather than before him.

Put another way, King looks like the static guarantor of a new, officially sanctioned and monolithic, status quo, not the contrarian outsider that he, in fact, was, stepping forward against an unjust system. This is King appropriated by bureaucratic elites tone deaf to both art and nonconformity; the overpowering guardian of a closed door, blocking it; not one who persistently sought entrance.

King’s models were Tolstoy, Thoreau, Gandhi, and Jesus. Can anyone imagine these figures memorialized in such a pose and on so ridiculous a scale? The sculptor’s own casual and human stance in the above photo is much more in keeping with King’s general demeanor than the statue itself.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Mao Luther King?

  1. David Yates says:

    I can’t remember where, but I seem to remember reading an article some while back about exactly this: That the Chinese sculptor is an unapologetic Maoist who deliberately allowed his ideology to be reflected in his depiction of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      If the sculptor did, in fact, deliberately play off the Maoist ethos, then it is an outrage. Its feel also recalls another totalitarian of the spirit—Constantine.


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