Art Matters: Being On The Wrong Side of Protest

Being On The Wrong Side Of Protest

John Wilson

by Leah Hamilton @happisplace

A local activist is currently demanding the removal of the sculpture dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Buffalo’s MLK Park. However, calling the monument a “mistake” and threatening to “melt down” that “big Black head” is not only deplorable and unnecessary but doubly embarrassing and a window to the uncultured narrow minded sentiments of white radical racists fighting to keep confederate statues and flags in the public sector.

It all brings to mind a quote by Dr. King , “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” In defense of artistic freedom, I would like to focus on who and what matters; that being public art and the genius talents of John Woodrow Wilson, the artist who created the Martin Luther King tribute in MLK Park.

In my humble opinion this renowned African American has undeniably blessed this city (which is still in many ways somewhat racially crippled), with one of the most outstanding sculptures dedicated to a civil rights leader in the Western New York area. From the recent vivid installation of the Freedom Wall mural on East Ferry and Michigan and the waving banners depicting national and local community leaders along Fillmore Ave., public art has arrived in the community! Its presence is serving to help awaken those starved for a fresh new dose of creative, prideful representation, purposeful conversation, and self-exploration.

The King monument, which has graced the park for some 35 years should be a part of that purposeful, positive conversation, rather than talk of its destruction. Born in Boston in 1922, artist John W. Wilson, like most African Americans of his time, endured the trials of racial attacks on Black lives. He noted In a 2012 interview about remembering the newspapers his father would read, like The Amsterdam News, which had images of lynchings in “every other issue.” As he matured Wilson took hold of his vision to dedicate a career ultimately driven by the political climate in which he lived. His body of work proves to be a solid fusion of politics and art to combat social injustices for which he championed until his death in 2015.

Far from a nobody, Wilson upholds a relevance in the community of important African American artists and educators in America, celebrated by many, acquired by fine art collectors, prestigious art institutes, and universities. The much needed removal of a number of confederate statues are underway across America.

I strongly believe the current petition drive to not only remove, but destroy, the King sculpture in MLK Park is on the wrong side of protest. Dr. King would be highly offended by the removal of a monumental work of art made in his honor by an equally honorable man who also dedicated his life to the tireless fight for peace, equality and justice for the Black lives depicted through meaningful public art that truly matters.

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