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The Embrace: A Heartfelt Tribute or Modernism Gone Wrong?

If you are from Boston, you may have heard about the newest statue revealed in Boston Common, “The Embrace.” The statue was unveiled last week in honor of Martin Luther King Junior Day. The initial reactions to this statue have been mixed. Some have enthusiastically supported the artistic direction. Others have raised questions regarding its appearance, and still others have scorned the new statue. According to the creator of the statue, Hank Willis Thomas, it is supposed to represent the relationship between Dr. King and his wife, Loretta Scott King. It is based on a famous 1964 photograph in which the couple embraced after Dr. King had been announced as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Still, no one can deny that it was a rather strange choice to only include the arms of the two people. Thomas defends his piece stating that “The Embrace” is supposed to represent spiritual and emotional protection, and mayor Michelle Wu hailed it as an eye-opening invitation to the racism that still exists in our society. On the other hand, detractors have stated that it is a literal monument to how white liberals have dismembered Dr. King and his more radical message. Seneca Scott, cousin of Coretta Scott King even called it a “masturbatory metal homage to my legendary family members.”

The whole spectacle has opened up a debate about how to portray civil rights leaders in statues and sculptures, whether or not they should be done in realistic styles such as the MLK statue in Washington D.C, or whether they should be done in a more artistic mode as shown in “The Embrace.” 

I went myself to see the statue and asked passersby if they had any strong opinions on the statue and what it may represent. From the ground, it is pretty obvious what the statue is supposed to be. But to be fair to critics, it does still look strange, especially with no heads. The people that I asked had nuanced opinions on the statue. One person responded, “I like the statue and I am interested in the direction that they are taking the memorial.” Another person said that it was a fine way to represent the late Dr. King when asked if they thought that the statue did a good job as a memorial for him. Finally, someone said that they didn’t understand it at first, but once they understood the significance of the hug, they said that it makes for a good statue. 

It appears that the overwhelming criticism of this sculpture was not as widespread as initially reported. People can agree that the statue may be a little weird, but that it nevertheless does capture the spirit of Dr. King and his message.

Patrick Dumitrescu
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