Does race or ethnicity matter in a tribute to a historical figure?
Posted Nov. 30, 2007 – The protest against the selection of a Chinese artist – instead of an African American – as the point person on the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial project has picked up a new soldier: the California branch of the NAACP.
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Critics of the project’s choice of sculptor Lei Yixin, of Changsha, China, say that not only should a Black artist have been chosen, but it is equally important that an American head up the assignment. They argue that Lei, a citizen of Communist China, represents the very thing that King stood against.
China is “country with the worst record of human rights violations and civil rights abuses in the world,” the California branch of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization said in a resolution last month against Lei’s selection; it is the first NAACP chapter to officially condemn the choice. Lei is "renowned for his many sculptures and busts glorifying Mao Zedong, murderer of 70 million innocent Chinese, which is in direct opposition to Dr. King's philosophy and to the ideal of positive social change throughout the world."
But the organizer of the memorial, noting that two African-American artists and an African-American architectural firm are contributing to the project, contends that the diversity surrounding the effort is completely in line with King’s philosophy.
"Dr. King was an international hero. We searched the world looking for a sculptor who could do this work in granite and stone," Harry E. Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the memorial project, told The San Francisco in an interview from China to see a clay model of the sculpture. "I respect the NAACP's right to protest, but they need to review all the facts. There are no African-American sculptors that do this type of work in granite. "In addition, Dr. King stood for equality among all people and said we should not judge by the color of skin but the content of their character. He stood for equality among all people."
A petition created by Atlanta-based artist Gilbert Young has been circulating at www.kingisours.com, asking people to urge the project to reconsider the choice of a Chinese artist.
"It is disgraceful that there will be a sculpture to honor a Black man for his fight against racism in this country and we couldn't find one Black person on Earth to interpret his likeness," Young said. "It is insulting and does not serve my people well. It makes us invisible. "I do not think that anyone outside of my immediate community should have been looked at first. We need a Black artist to interpret Dr. King and a Black name at the base of the monument, because he died for us."
Do you believe King’s death supports the idea that a Black artist should have been chosen or the notion that race is irrelevant in a situation like this? Click "Discuss Now" to post your comment.