Who is Hank Willis Thomas? Creator of $10M Martin Luther King Jr statue reveals concept behind 'Embrace'

Who is Hank Willis Thomas? Creator of $10M Martin Luther King Jr statue reveals concept behind 'Embrace'
Hank Willis Thomas explains his mindset behind the controversial $10 million statue called 'The Embrace' (Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for WomanLifeFreedom.today, WCVB/YouTube Screengrab)

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS: The 22-foot-tall monument called 'The Embace' honoring the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr was unveiled in Boston on January 13 to instant criticism. The bronze statue represents the iconic hug between Dr Martin Luther King Jr and his wife Coretta Scott King after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The statue is brought to life by Hank Willis Thomas. The conceptual artist has now stated that his idea of representing the Kings in this way was to depict love and not war.

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The artist explained the concept behind the depiction of the civil rights icon. Thomas, in an interview said, "When we recognize that all storytelling is an abstraction, all representation is an abstraction, hopefully it allows us to be open to more dynamic and complex forms of representation that don't stick us to narrative that oversimplifies a person or their legacy, and I think this work really tries to get to the heart of that," as per The New York Times. In a separate interview Thomas said, "There was an intimacy that I saw that wasn't highlighted often. I just love that image - him hugging her with such glee and such joy and price. I saw the pride on her face and I recognized that this was teamwork. All of his weight in that picture is on her." He continues, "I'm kind of scared, because representing Kings with their faces is a bold move," as per CBS.

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Who is Hank Willis Thomas?

Thomas is an American conceptual artist who is based out of Brooklyn, New York. He is particularly known for playing around themes like identity, history, and popular culture. Born in 1976 in Plainfield, New Jersey to Hank Thomas, a jazz musician, and Deborah Willis, artist, photographer, curator and educator, the mind behind 'The Embrace' attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts as a Museum Studies student. He also co-created 'For Freedoms' with artist Eric Gottesman in 2016 - a platform for creative civic engagement in America. He has a permanent installation at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, called 'Rise Up'. It depicts a cement wall with statues of black heads and bodies emerging from the top of the wall whose arms are raised in surrender.

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Hank Willis Thomas  attends Eyes on Iran Press Preview for Woman Life Freedom at Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park on Roosevelt Island on November 28, 2022 in New York City.
Hank Willis Thomas attends Eyes on Iran Press Preview for Woman Life Freedom at Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park on Roosevelt Island on November 28, 2022 in New York City (Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for WomanLifeFreedom.today)

'Random arms embracing a huge turd'

One user said, "Crowd went silent real quick. They were probably asking themselves if they were at the right dedication." Another user wrote, "It is super ugly MLK was one of the Greatest Men ever and we do this?" One more user said, "I love how everyone is clapping before the great reveal. Then they slowly stop clapping once they realize it looks like random arms embracing a huge turd." 

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One person tweeted, "The intention was fantastic. The execution.... . Remember the episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray's mom made a sculpture of a flower, but NOBODY saw a flower? That's this now. Unfortunate." Another user wrote, "I don't get it. I don't see the art here. And I don't see how it honors Dr King." One more person wrote, "Excuse me for asking but what the heck is that supposed to be… from this angle it looks like a hand grasping a leg and pulling it down!"

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