Artist Addresses Lewd MLK Monument Backlash
Art

Artist Addresses Lewd MLK Monument Backlash

After causing a significant amount of backlash and a deluge of lewd memes, the artist behind a new monument dedicated to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is addressing the controversy.

Unveiled this past Friday, "The Embrace" is located on Boston Common, the same spot where the civil rights leader gave a speech in 1965 to over 22,000 people. However, the statue drew its fair share of mockery and criticism for its suggestive shape. Modeled after a photo of King and his wife Coretta Scott King hugging after he won Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the monument consists of their arms detached from their bodies, meant to be a reminder of "the capacity of love to shape society." It has instead become a horny Rorshach test for the internet's dirty minds.

The sculpture went almost immediately viral for resembling a variety of sexual acts from multiple angles, with its assemblage of semi-ambiguous shapes being described as a “masturbatory metal homage.” From allusions to eating ass to unfortunate framings of the abstract bronze mass' phallic-like qualities, the monument fueled countless innuendo-laden tweets and memes.

The sculpture also received its fair share of non sexually-charged derision. The Washington Post's Global Opinions editor, Karen Attiah, wrote “It doesn’t sit well with me that Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King are reduced to body parts – just their arms. Not their faces — their expressions,” but even she had to admit that from a certain angle it did look like some was performing oral sex. “No matter how much I try, I can’t unsee it.”

That being said, Martin Luther King III did seem to approve of the statue, telling CNN that he was happy to see his parents' love and partnership enshrined on Boston Common. “I think the artist did a great job. I’m satisfied. Yeah, it didn’t have my mom and dad’s images, but it represents something that brings people together,” said King. “And in this time, day and age, when there’s so much division, we need symbols that talk about bringing us together.”

As for Hank Willis Thomas, the Brooklyn-based conceptual artist behind "The Embrace," he likened the reception to the controversy over Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and hoped that, in time, people would come to appreciate the piece rather than relegate it to being a punchline. “This is a piece that was selected by the people of Boston. This is not Hank just came and put something. Thousands of people worked on this, thousands of people actually put it together and no one saw this, I would say, perverse perspective,” Thomas said.

Thomas went on to quote King's "Love Your Enemies" sermon in an Instagram post. “Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that,” he writes. “Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load.”

Photo via Getty/Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe

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