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When Public Art Fails

by The Urban News

“The Embrace,” a 22-foot-tall bronze sculpture was unveiled at Boston Common on January 13, 2023.

It stands in the new 1965 Freedom Rally Memorial Plaza in Boston, which is named as an homage to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at Boston Common.

The sculpture was inspired by a photograph of Dr. King and Coretta hugging after they learned the civil rights leader had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Hank Willis Thomas, the Brooklyn-based artist behind it, said he wanted to create a sculpture dedicated to love and not war, and that the image symbolized the strength of the iconic couple’s marriage.

Correspondent Nancy Giles talks with sculptor Hank Willis Thomas, and with Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of Embrace Boston, about the effort to create a monument to love, belonging and hope.


Commentors on social media weighed in:

  • From the one correct angle, with the picture to guide me, it makes perfect sense. If I approach the sculpture from any other angle, things get awkward quickly.
  • It is no good as a public remembrance if people can’t figure out what it is supposed to be.
  • I dayum sho seent a pay-nus first.
  • They need to show his face, make a bold political statement about normalizing Black bodies and Black dignity along with the unity and non-violence. Dr. King’s likeness needs to be as iconic and recognizable as any other American leader.
  • You can walk under it and be embraced in the hug. Art is obviously subjective but I think it’s interesting.
  • You know it’s bad when someone tries to convince you it’s not.
  • Sick and disrespectful.
  • ONE focus group of African Americans could’ve prevented this.
  • This is like your non-rapping cousin’s mixtape.
  • We very much like our art “real” and “easily interpreted.”
  • That’s a whole lot of materials and $$$ to misrepresent the Kings. Very disappointing. A huge opportunity for displaying beautiful Black art wasted.
  • Art can…

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