Originally published in the Rockland County Times, August 2011
BY LAUREN KATE ROSENBLUM
The new Martin Luther King Jr. monument is the subject of controversy since the public has learned that Chinese citizen Lei Yixen, one of the most prized sculptors in all of China, was hired by the United States to create the piece.
Disappointed Americans have said Yixen’s selection is an affront to the United States, King’s values and the African-American community. Many believe it should be an American doing this work in America. Also, they say the fact that China is led by a freedom restricting communist regime goes against essential “King” values.
Black artists have spoke out as well, stating that because of everything King did for civil rights, it would be more appropriate for a black artist to do the work. MLK Jr.’s son Martin Luther King III, however, said he is very happy with the artist and the rendering of his father.
Organizers of the project came across Yixen by chance at a granite-carving symposium in Minnesota. The design, created by an American architecture firm, was selected from among 900 candidates from 52 countries. Many wonder why the work was not done by an American.
Authorities in charge of the monument state that Yixen was the most qualified artist and provided the best quality granite at a lower price. Therefore, the entire monument was made with Chinese materials, in China, with American money.
Yixen has won many awards and received a lifetime stipend form the Chinese government to pursue his sculpting. His work is featured in China’s National Art Gallery collection and also in public monuments. He has sculpted Chinese political figures like 20th century Chinese dictator Mao Zedong. The price tag on the project stands at approximately $120 million for the four-acre monument on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
The Martin Luther King Jr. monument officiallly opened to the public on the 48th anniversary of the legendary “I have a dream” speech, August 28, 2011. It was originally proposed many years ago by the Fraternity Alpha Phi Alphi, of which Martin Luther King Jr. was a member while attending Boston University.
They had wanted a monument for King since his assassination in 1968, but the idea didn’t become popular until his birthday was deemed a national holiday in 1986.
In 1996, Congress authorized the fraternity to establish a memorial if by November of 2003 they could raise $100 million. Due to planning differences and lack of funds, the plan was delayed until 2009, when Yixen was selected to do the job.