Copper in the Arts

February 2019

The Embrace Wins Year-Long Contest for Boston’s New Monumental MLK Sculpture

By Paul David

After a year-long artist selection process, the King Boston Art Committee named The Embrace, a 22-foot bronze sculpture by artist Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group, as the winning memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King on Boston Common. The sculpture will be commissioned and displayed in the Boston Common by 2020.

“On behalf of King Boston, I want to thank the remarkable slate of artists who submitted designs for consideration, and especially the finalists whose work received both thoughtful scrutiny and a positive reception from both the community and our partners,” said Paul English, co-chair of King Boston. “This memorial will be a core element of the multifaceted tribute to the Kings -- one that fosters discussion and provides a platform for continuing their work throughout the city.

embrace.jpgThe Embrace, a 22-foot bronze sculpture celebrating the Kings.
Photograph Courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group/King Boston.

According to King Boston, the winning sculpture design features massive interlocking arms, representing the Kings locked in a powerful embrace and walking arm-in-arm in a civil rights protest.

“Is there a more radical act of justice than love?” asks Michael Murphy, founding principal and executive director of MASS Design Group. “The choice to love your neighbor, to love someone that is not yourself, to go into a community and act is the foundational seed of social justice. To us, there was no better way to honor the Kings’ legacy and advance collective action.” Hank Willis Thomas added, “Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King are monumental examples of the capacity of love to shape society. I can only hope The Embrace can be a reminder and a call to action to each of us to never forget what they’ve taught us.”

King Boston received 126 applications to design the memorial, and 5 finalists were selected by a panel of experts - renowned educators, visual artists and curators rooted in the Black art tradition. The proposals were displayed at the Boston Public Library, the Bruce C. Bolling Building and online. Around 1,000 public comments were received and catalogued. Of the five finalists, three designs were advanced to the feasibility stage, where a cooperative team of reviewers from King Boston and the City of Boston reviewed the practicality of each design.

“Hank Willis Thomas and MASS Design Group proposed a memorial that excited the greatest community support, and also met the criteria of the Art Committee and the City," said Barry Gaither, co-chair of the King Boston Art Committee. "All of the finalists presented powerful and imaginative ideas for honoring Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King, Jr., but the Committee could choose only one. It felt that The Embrace captured the spirit of love and community that was so central to the Kings' work, and that we want to radiate across the City from the Boston Common."

Through the sculpture and landscape, the artists chose to focus on the act rather than the individual, to highlight our collective role in advancing the vision—exactly what the Kings sought to engender. By solidifying the ideals of inclusion that the Kings sought to defend in their united life of activism, the artists aim to call people into the act of empathy and action.

"I am proud to see a project selected that embodies the spirit of love and compassion that the Kings demonstrated throughout their lives,” said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “Together with the King Center for Economic Justice, and the partnership with the Twelfth Baptist Church, this memorial will serve as a gathering space for people to come together to reflect on their remarkable impact on our society, while recommitting us to continue to fulfill their dream of equality for all each and every day."


The Boston Foundation, 75 Arlington St., # 1000, Boston, MA, (617) 338-1700

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