The new statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. opened on the National Mall yesterday, with much hoopla as well as with much controversy. It was sculpted by a Chinese artist named Lei Yixin, shown above with his prototype of the King statue.
Denver based artist Ed Dwight, who was on the planning committee for the King memorial, was anything but happy. Dr. King, Dwight said, “would be turning over in his grave if he knew that the artist who sculpted King was from a Communist country.” Others added that they thought King looked confrontational, and that his face looked Asian rather than American.
One thing struck me as I looked at the photos of the King Memorial. Having toured China, and having seen scores of huge Mao statues still on display throughout the country, I immediately thought that the King Memorial looks very similar to all those giant Mao statues glorifying the “Great Helmsman” in the People’s Republic of China.
See here for yourself in the following two examples, and look closely at the face of Mao and compare it to that of Dr. King:
As the report accompanying this photo notes, the statues are going up again throughout China, and older ones are being carefully restored. They are all quite huge, and have the same effect when one looks at them as one has looking at the giant King now in Washington, D.C.
So am I not surprised, after a quick internet search, to find out that sculptor Le Yixin is — yes, you guessed it– most well known for his sculptures of Mao Zedong.
So, our greatest civil rights leader, a man dedicated to non-violence, Ghandian principles applied to oppression within a democratic society, is honored by a sculptor whose background is that of fashioning tributes to one of the late century’s most horrible tyrants and mass murderers.
The inevitable question: What would Martin Luther King, Jr. think? And how would he feel about being put up on a pedestal and represented by a giant Mao-like sculpture that in appearance and impact looks like a classic work of Maoist propaganda art? It is in the genre of Chinese style “socialist realism,” resembling the classic works of that style that was common in the Soviet Union from the 1920s on.
I don’t think Dr. King, looking down from above, is very happy today.