Friday, 18 May 2012

Vusumuzi Maduna, Martin Luther King and a School in Cambridge, Massachusetts

The 'Artist's Statement' by Vusumuzi Maduna (1940-2007) is currently attached to a wall of a relatively newly created teachers' room that partially blocks the view of his sculpture mural in the Martin Luther King School built by the modernist architect Josep Louis Sert, 1970-72. The cuboid room has been inserted into the foyer of the school in the place where, originally, a plant or small tree was placed, benefitting from the clerestory lighting of the space. The statement reads:

'There is an ongoing need to explore new ways to communicate and celebrate the African American experience - our conscious and unconscious African legacy, and the intimate bond with Caribbean and Native American cultures. I was greatly honored to receive my African name, Vusumuzi, from a group of South Africans since it affirms that, beyond the recognition I have received throughout the Americas, my vision has been understood and praised by those from a part of the globe I am trying to communicate with and about. Translated as 'builder of culture', Vusumuzi refers to the person you call if your village is decimated, and in whose care the ancestral bones are placed. The artistic identity and cultural role is my lifetime commitment.'

Vusumuzi's sculpture is a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr and commemorates key events in his struggle for civil rights as well as his funeral. It is made of plastic, perforated sheet metal and metal mesh. It uses colour and form symbolically. It is large (forty feet long, nineteen high and projecting in places to three feet) and assertive. Details concerning it can be found on the Cambridge Public Art website at

Folk connected with the Decorated School Research Network were shown the sculpture during our April Conference in Boston. Lillian Hsu, Director of Public Art and Exhibitions for Cambridge Arts Council, together with a School Liaison Officer, explained to us the problems of dealing with the work some forty years after its creation. Not only is it being obscured from view by the boxy rooms to its side but also by a fence on which has been painted 'happy' panels of botanic, marine and human harmony under a smiling sun. The height of this fence means many of the smaller children will miss the violence and funeral of the King memorial as they pass through. The school is about to close down temporarily and be totally refurbished. Questions remain about what to do with Vusumuzi's vision.
I'm very grateful to Lillian and the school officials who made our visit possible. When I've time I'll try to write up further impressions of the Conference (which was superb - thanks to Roy Kozlovsky for its organisation). I might also add a piece about the 'Further the Dream' mural outside the King School and some other artwork there. Suffice it to say now that the second mural can be read about on the school's website at: I note that the work was co-directed by David Fichter, who in the eighties was painting murals in Nicaraguan schools...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cambridge Public Art is doing so much for the community. Great article. We're a local painter in Cambridge MA and we really admire the art initiatives in the are!javascript:void(0)