NEWS///FIRST LOOK AT THE MARTIN LUTHER KING MEMORIAL IN WASHINGTON DC

January 20, 2009  |  art, Feature, News, Obama, Politiks, Public Art

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Lei Yixin at work carving MLK and the "Stone of Hope"...

Forty-six years after he gave his famous "I Have a Dream Speech" in Washington on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. is set to finally be immortalized with his own colossal sculpture, titled “The Stone of Hope” in the nation's capitol. The three-piece monument depicts the civil rights leader stading, arms crossed, before a large and imposing mountain representing the leader's hard-fought struggle. With the historic inauguration of Barack Obama coming a day after what would have been King’s 80th birthday today, the amount needed to construct the memorial has almost been reached. So far, a reported $100 million of the project’s estimated $120 million construction cost has been raised through donations to the privately financed Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. Scheduled for completion by year’s end, The MLK memorial will be built on a four-acre corner of the National Mall, on the banks of the Potomac River between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. The image of King is being realized by Chinese master sculptor LEI YIXIN who won a design competition to create the artwork. The decision has not come without controversy, however. Allowing a Chinese artist to helm the project was criticized as being out of step with King’s teachings given that country’s human rights abuses, while the image of King proposed by Yixin itself, drew the ire of The U.S. Commission on Fine Arts earlier this year. According to the group, the image of the civil rights leader shown standing with his arms crossed was too "confrontational," and the general style of the planned 28-foot granite statue "recalls a genre of political sculpture that has recently been pulled down in other countries." Luckily, both sides have since reconciled and King’s nephew Isaac Newton Farris Jr., president and chief executive officer of the King Center in Atlanta and nephew of the civil rights leader, has declared that the design correctly depicts his legacy: "My uncle was a strong and confrontational figure, his confrontation helped us to complete what the original founders intended when this country was formed, by confronting our problems with race in this nation. For them to say the statue looks too confrontational and too strong is the opposite of what his legacy was about." HAVE A LOOK:

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INTERVIEW WITH MLK MEMORIAL ARTIST LEI YIXIN:
Mike Xiong: Could you talk about the centerpiece of this three pieces sculpture, the Stone of Hope?
Lei Yixin: I really spent quite a lot of time to read and study Martin Luther King, Jr.’s material the MLK Foundation sent to me. First of all, I believe that King is a person who had strong determination to change the society and gain equal rights for black Americans. So his figure must be strong, firm and has some inspiration to viewer. On his face, I put frown on to express his discontent with the reality but at the same time I made his eyes bright and forward looking to deliver the hope and confidence.

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What kind of artistic method have you adopted?
I used the realistic approach to for the head and upper part of King’s figure. Very detailed expression is used to his face, arms, hands and jacket. The degree of details starts to decrease below his jacket with his pants gradually merging into the stone. This design creates a feeling as if Martin Luther King, Jr. is emerging out of a piece of stone. This stone is the hope for equal rights. In order to protrude the central figure of Martin Luther King, Jr., I purposely make a rough background with traces of chopping and chiseling.

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Looking at the photos from your sample, I do feel that it is what you want to convey to viewers. How about the Mountains of Despair?
I have studies studied many different mountains in Europe, China and America. The shapes of cracking in the mountain are a combination of many mountains from different continents. I made the surface of the mountain very rough with sharp edges and spikes to give people a feeling as if it will hurt you when you touch it. Because this is a Mountain of Despair, I would like to express a feeling of hardship and hopeless. This will also help to support the theme for the stone of hope represented by Martin Luther King, Jr. On the other hand, since the mountains of despair are doomed to collapse, I have created some deep fissures and cracks. They look like natural erosion and imply the desperate situation of discriminated people will eventually replaced by confidence and hope.

Could you talk a little about the deployment of the three pieces of sculpture?
The three pieces of rocks are in an inverse tri-angle with the stone of hope displayed at the center top and the mountains of despair at each side. There will be three flat sides on the stone of hope: two side panels and one back panel. A total 16 selected quotations and public speeches such as "I have a dream" will be engraved on them and other two panels on the mountains of despair. Visitors will be channeled to the center hall formed by the three pieces of sculptures after viewing the outside works. They will be able to access the center hall to read those quotations through one back and two side channels created by this inverse tri angle design. ST

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