Meet “The Embrace” Sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas on Boston Common, January 2023

Boston has a new monument. The Embrace, which honors Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s civil rights legacy and formative years in Boston, was unveiled on the Boston Common Friday in a joyous ceremony attended by Massachusetts’ political leaders and members of the King family.” ( quote excerpt from WGBH article by Megan Smith, January 13, 2023, The Embrace sculpture honors MLK Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s legacy of love in Boston )

On the cold rainy morning after the very crowded unveiling ceremony of January 13, 2023, I began to explore “The Embrace” on the Boston Common’s new ‘1965 Freedom Plaza.’ Here are a few photos, links, and quotes selected for this first in what could become a series of related posts in the years ahead. The focus of this post is the sculpture itself, with basic information about the Freedom Plaza and broader plans from Embrace Boston.

The sculpture depicts four massive bronze arms wrapped together in an embrace, representing the love of the Kings, who met while students in Boston and began their careers here.” ( quote excerpt from Globe article by Tiana Woodard and Mike Damiano Jan 13, 2023, “In the city where the Kings met, ‘The Embrace’ memorializes their love and struggle” )

The 20-foot high bronze sculpture is inspired by a 1964 photo of the couple embracing after Martin Luther King Jr. learned he had won the Nobel Peace Prize.” (quote excerpt from WGBH article by Megan Smith, January 13, 2023, The Embrace sculpture honors MLK Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s legacy of love in Boston )

By highlighting the act of embrace, this sculpture shifts the emphasis from a singular hero worship to collective action, imploring those curious enough to investigate closer. Located at a crossroads in the Common, the landscape around the memorial reinforces the need for collective action inspired by love.” (quote excerpt from The Embrace statement on Hank Willis Thomas website)

The sculpture sits on the newly constructed 1965 Freedom Plaza, which etches in stone the names of 65 civil rights leaders who made a mark in Boston, some of whom were in attendance Friday. It also marks the Rev. King’s 1965 march from Roxbury to the Common, and sits a few miles away from the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, where King had served as an assistant minister in the 1950s.” (quote excerpt from WGBH article by Megan Smith, January 13, 2023, The Embrace sculpture honors MLK Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s legacy of love in Boston )

“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. — Hank Willis Thomas” (quote excerpt from The Embrace statement on Hank Willis Thomas website)

“What is now called the Embrace Boston Fund was established at the Boston Foundation in 2017, with an inaugural gift of $1,000,000 from local entrepreneur Paul English, to spark the creation of a memorial tribute to Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King in the city of Boston, where Martin and Coretta met and spent their formative years. Since that time, the work of Embrace Boston, formerly known as King Boston, has expanded in scope to include not just the memorial but also an annual Ideas Festival and the development of a permanent center for racial and social justice in Roxbury. “ ( quote excerpt from the Boston Foundation)

“In the spirit of the Kings’ community-mobilizing work, the planning and development process for the project has been made especially inclusive. In 2019, the King Boston advisory committee, with significant public input, selected the sculpture The Embrace as the design for the memorial to the Kings on Boston Common.” (quote excerpt from the Boston Foundation)

KEY RESOURCES (links in red)

“In the city where the Kings met, ‘The Embrace’ memorializes their love and struggle” Globe article by Tiana Woodard and Mike Damiano, Jan 13, 2023

“The Embrace”: A monument to love This five-minute video is key to me in revealing the artist’s process, motivation, and stages of work with many others to finally complete the monument.

Embrace Boston https://www.embraceboston.org/

Hank Willis Thomas artist website “Hank (b. 1976 Plainfield, NJ) lives and works in Brooklyn, NY as a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad including the International Center of Photography, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Musée du quai Branly, Hong Kong Arts Centre and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art.”

‘The Embrace’ on Hank Willis Thomas website

The Embrace sculpture honors MLK Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s legacy of love in Boston

Martin Luther King Jr. statue in Boston draws online mockery, disdain, by Travis Michaels, Jan 15, 2023, The Washington Post

Embrace Boston Fund, Boston Foundation

I wanted to love the new Boston MLK statue. But it’s just awkward. Perspective by Sebastian Smee, The Washington Post, Jan 17, 2023, Significant articulate art criticism, to consider on future visits

How does The Embrace fare as a piece of public art? We asked a critic, an artist and a reporter. By Paris Alston January 20, 2023, Morning Edition,  GBH NEWS

What Art To See This Winter, Greg Cook’s WONDERLAND, January 2023

MLK Memorial ‘The Embrace’ Unveiled At Boston Common , Greg Cook’s WONDERLAND 1/24/23

3 comments

  1. Thank you! 

    Lee

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  2. Rebecca MacWilliams · · Reply

    This is great Deb, and yes, the 5 minute video is key!
    How true it is, that there are war monuments a-plenty, but where are the monuments to love?

  3. Thank you, Bec, for affirming the value of the video and the heartening aspects of the art!

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