“This work is really about the ability of each of us to be surrounded by love, and I feel surrounded by love every time I hear the names and see the faces of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King,” Thomas told the Boston Globe.
His work shows four intertwined hands. From one angle, the limbs form a heart, representing the couple’s love. But even though Chicago’s iconic “Cloud Gate” sculpture quickly became known as “The Bean” because it looks like, well, a giant bean, legions of amateur art critics don’t see what Thomas was up to.
Many were especially bothered by the fact that the kings were not depicted in their entirety.
“Given that I am not white, I am safe from ANY charge of racism if I were to say that the MLK hug statue is aesthetically displeasing. The famous photo should be a FULL statue of the couple and their embrace. What a great swing and drop in honor of Dr & Mrs King. SAD!” tweeted Boston Herald columnist Rasheed N. Walters.
“Show me a white man who was honored with a statue of only two of his limbs,” tweeted comedian Javann Jones.
“This statue of MLK looks obscene from certain angles, but when you see it in its entirety, you realize it’s supposed to represent Martin Luther King Jr.’s score. [Coretta] Scott King went through the teleporter together in The Fly,” tweeted Frank J. Fleming of the Daily Wire.
Many others, however, made more vulgar jokes about what they saw as a provocative array of hard-to-identify body parts.
Seneca Scott, Coretta King’s cousin, blasted the artwork in an essay for the online magazine Compact titled “Masturbation ‘Gift’ to My Family.” “To my family, this is quite insulting,” he wrote, adding that “the sculpture is a particularly glaring example of the callousness and vanity of the awakened machine,” which he found a particularly expensive but empty gesture.
“Ten million dollars were wasted on creating a masturbation metal tribute to my legendary family members — one of the greatest American families of all time. … How can anyone fail to see that this … brings very little, if any, tangible benefit to black families?” Scott wrote.
The work was, of course, both commissioned and sculpted with good intentions. In 2017, the city put out a call for artists to create a memorial to the kings, who met in Boston and eventually chose Thomas, a renowned artist from Brooklyn.
It was unveiled Friday at an invitation-only ceremony at the same spot where King led 20,000 people in a freedom march more than 50 years ago.
Mayor Michelle Wu said the sculpture could help the public live out King’s vision “to open our eyes to the injustice of racism and draw more people into the movement for justice,” the Boston Globe reported.
“Coretta Scott King’s recognition shows that we are a city that will embrace the full legacy of Kings and challenge injustices everywhere from a place of love,” Wu said in a statement. “As we continue to work to ensure that Boston is a city for everyone, this memorial is a powerful call to embrace ourselves even more, embrace our nation’s history, and embrace what is possible when we are at the center of the community.”
“I hope people who experience ‘The Embrace’ understand or transcend the power of connection to improve our lives,” Thomas told the paper, adding, “I’m excited about building labels that can guide us toward nonviolent coexistence and allow us to say new stories about our history, our present and our future.”