“The Embrace”—a pair of monumental hugging arms—has been selected to become a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King on Boston Common as soon as next year. The design by Brooklyn artist Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group was inspired by images of the Kings hugging and walking arm in arm at the frontlines of protests.
“Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King are monumental examples of the capacity of love to shape society,” Thomas said in a press release. “I can only hope ‘The Embrace’ can be a reminder and a call to action to each of us to never forget what they’ve taught us.”
“Is there a more radical act of justice than love?” said Michael Murphy, executive director of MASS Design Group, a non-profit architecture firm with addresses in Boston, Kigali and Poughkeepsie, New York. “The choice to love your neighbor, to love someone that is not yourself, to go into a community and act is the foundational seed of social justice. To us, there was no better way to honor the Kings’ legacy and advance collective action.”
The $3 million to $4 million project is being developed by King Boston, a private non-profit aiming to create the memorial as well as a King Center for Economic Justice in Roxbury and programs about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. It’s co-chaired by Paul English, co-founder of the online travel service Lola, as well as of Kayak, GetHuman and Boston Light Software, and, Rev. Liz Walker, senior pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church.
Thomas—son of photographer, historian, and MacArthur “genius” grant winner Deborah Willis—is known for making art that sharply and provocatively address race, politics and consumer culture in America. You can find his public sculpture “All Power to All People,” an 8-foot-tall hair pick with a Black Power fist at the top, in Philadelphia. His art has also looked at the intersection of race and sports and explored how contemporary marketing branding’s echoes the literal branding of enslaved peoples.
Plans call for “The Embrace” to be situated in Boston Common, near the Parkman Bandstand and Treemont Street, to create two gathering spaces—one facing the State House and the other facing toward bandstand, where Dr. King addressed the Common in April 1965. The sculpture’s reflective, coppery surface and the way designs suggest it will arch over visitors recall some of the best features of Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” (aka “The Bean”) in downtown Chicago, which has become a tremendous success in that community since it debuted in 2006.
“’The Embrace’ captured the spirit of love and community that was so central to the Kings’ work, and that we want to radiate across the City from the Boston Common,” Barry Gaither, director of Boston’s Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, who co-chaired the King Boston Art Committee, said in a prepared statement.
The public art competition attracted high-profile, international submissions—including from Britain’s Yinka Shonibare and American-born, European-based Barbara Chase-Riboud. “The Embrace” was chosen from 126 applications, organizers say. King Boston aims to finish the memorial in 2020 with a “target budget” of $3 million to $4 million. Designs must still be reviewed by city agencies.
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