Boston

A New Photography Exhibition at MFA Boston Is Taking Viewers Through the ‘Multiple Realities of War’ in Ukraine


For far too often in the last 11 months has the sky above Ukraine been scarred by gunfire, shells, and explosions. A new exhibition of Ukrainian war photography at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston takes that same sky as a metaphor—and turns it into a kind of call to action. 

Who Holds Up the Sky?”, as the show is called, was organized by a trio of curators from the Wartime Art Archive at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) NGO in Kyiv, and brought to the U.S. through a collaboration with the MFA. It collects the work of Ukrainian artists who have documented the war since Russia’s invasion in February of last year. 

“Overcoming the darkness of death, shelling, genocide, and blackouts, photography captures the multiple realities of war,” the exhibition’s three MOCA NGO curators—Halyna Hleba, Olga Balashova, and Tetiana Lysun—wrote in the introductory wall text. The show, they explained, was conceived as a tribute to “everyone who is holding up the sky over Ukraine.”

Installation view of “Who Holds Up the Sky?” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, January 21 to May 21, 2023. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

On view are shots of missiles being launched from Russia, taken by photographer Vadym Belikov from the window of his own high-rise building, as well as a picture of the destruction that similar missiles have wrought on Ukrainian farmland, captured by war correspondent Efrem Lukatsky. 

Those two artists’ works are punctuated by several photos from Yana Kononova’s X-Scapes series, which document the physical destruction in Kyiv’s northern regions—twisted sheet metal, cratered housing structures—but are each cropped to the point of abstraction. Gone are direct indications of war, leaving the emotional devastation of the wreckage heightened.

Pillars in the MFA’s gallery are lined with illustrations from Inga Levi’s ongoing Double Exposure series, which began just days after Russia’s unprovoked invasion. Each entry in the collection depicts two realities: one of everyday life in Ukraine, one of war.  

Efrem Lukatsky, Bird’s eye view of a crater left by a Russian rocket that hit a farm field 10km from the front line. Despite
shelling, local farmers continue harvesting
(2022). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Rounding out the show is a video about the “Behind Blue Eyes” project, a charitable effort that provides Ukrainian kids with disposable cameras. They’re asked to carry around their cameras for a week, photographing their daily routines. The goal, according to the view’s label, is to project a “coherent and complex footprint of the war” from the perspective of those whose lives will forever be shaped by it.

The name of the project comes from the song of the same name by The Who. The curators suggest that the blue of the title is also meant to allude to the sky—a reminder, perhaps, that we’re all united by the firmament above us, even if it looks different.

See more images from “Who Holds Up the Sky?” below.

Installation view of “Who Holds Up the Sky?” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, January 21 to May 21, 2023. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Kostiantyn Polishchuk, Ukrainian soldiers (2022). © Polishchuk Kostiantyn. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Installation view of “Who Holds Up the Sky?” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, January 21 to May 21, 2023. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Yana Kononova, X‑Scapes #63‑17 (2022). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Installation view of “Who Holds Up the Sky?” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, January 21 to May 21, 2023. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Who Holds Up the Sky?” is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston through May 21, 2023.

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Standing Two Stories Tall, a Hank Willis Thomas Sculpture Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Is Unveiled on Boston Common


In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the city of Boston has unveiled its newest monument, a Hank Willis Thomas sculpture that now sits on the grounds of Boston Common, the nation’s oldest public park.

Titled The Embrace, the bronze statue is a pair of larger-than-life interlocking arms, inspired by a photo of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, hugging after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Representing the mutual love and support that made the Kings’ activism possible, it is 40 feet wide and 20 feet tall—about two stories high—and weighs 38,000 pounds.

Cast in 609 pieces from a 3D-printed model at the Walla Walla Foundry in Washington state, the massive work was fabricated, transported across the country, and installed in Boston against all odds.

“This was not supposed to happen—literally, there was a global pandemic in the middle of us trying to do a piece called Embrace,” Thomas said during the opening ceremony for the monument, which has been in the works since 2016. (His design, with MASS Design Group, was selected from 125 proposals.)

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>The Embrace</em> in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Common. Photo courtesy of the artist.

A leader in the Civil Rights Movement known for his nonviolent activism, civil disobedience, and powerful speechmaking, King was assassinated in April 1968. In recognition of his birthday, January 15 has been celebrated as a federal holiday on the third Monday of every year since 1986. He would have been 94 this year.

But the new memorial also highlights the contributions of Coretta Scott King to the Civil Rights Movement—which she was involved in prior to meeting her husband, and remained a leader of after his untimely death.

The city of Boston is an important part of the Kings’ family history, as they met there as students in 1952, just a year before their marriage. King returned in April 1965, addressing a joint session of the Massachusetts legislature about the importance of segregation. The next day, he gave a speech at a Freedom Rally on Boston Common, after leading some 22,000 activists in a Civil Rights march from nearby Roxbury.

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>The Embrace</em> in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Common. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Little did I imagine that such a day was possible when I walked through this same Boston Common as a student 10 years ago,” King told the crowd. “This will go down as one of the greatest days that Boston has ever seen.”

That history was honored today at an over-two-hour event marking the installation of The Embrace, which sits at the center of the new 1965 Freedom Plaza, designed by MASS Design Group. The floor features bronze name plates amid the titles honoring other Civil Rights activists who marched with King, nominated by community members.

The city of Boston hopes the work will become a major tourist attraction akin to the Statue of Liberty, with Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley telling the assembled crown that people will travel from all over the world to pay tribute to the Kings and see the “profound work of art—like their love, a masterpiece.”

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The program featured speeches by dignitaries Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, and former Governor Deval Patrick, as well as Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of Embrace Boston, the nonprofit that spearheaded the project—he spoke with tears in his eyes, overcome by the moment.

But it was King’s only granddaughter, 14-year-old Yolanda Renee King, who stole the show, speaking after her parents, Martin Luther King III and Arndrea Waters King. Clearly an impressive young orator in the making, Yolanda was unruffled even when the wind nearly blew away the notes of her prepared speech.

And when NBC10 Boston anchor and the event’s master of ceremonies Latoyia Edwards asked the young girl to tell the crowd more about herself, Yolanda spoke off the cuff in impassioned tones about continuing her grandparents’ work striving for justice no matter what, and praised the statue memorializing their legacy.

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>The Embrace</em> in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Common. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“This is almost like love 360, because this monument is dedicated to their love, and we really need more love in this world,” Yolanda said.

Thomas agreed, embracing—pun intended—Love 360 as an alternative title for the work, which allows viewers to stand inside the arms, as if encircled by a hug. He hopes the monument will be seen a manifestation of the Kings’ love and the power of that emotion. It is also a visible symbol of the Black experience and Black joy, despite generations of struggle faced by the Black community.

“It’s really about the capacity for each of us to be enveloped in love,” Thomas said.

A group show of Hank Willis Thomas’s art collective, For Freedoms, “Let Love Quiet Fear” is on view of Praise Shadows Art Gallery, 313A Harvard Street, Brookline, January 12–February 12, 2023.

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Hank Willis Thomas’s Poignant Memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King Will Be Unveiled in Boston Next Fall


A 22-foot-tall bronze memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King will be unveiled next year in the country’s oldest public park.  

Designed by artist Hank Willis Thomas with a team of architects from the MASS Design Group, the sculpture, destined for Boston Common, depicts two disembodied pairs of arms in a tender embrace—a gesture based on a photograph of the couple hugging after Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. 

The Kings, Thomas said in a statement when his design was chosen, are a “monumental [example] of the capacity of love to shape society.” 

Led by King Boston, a private nonprofit committed to furthering the legacy of the couple, the project has been in the works since 2016. The organization selected Thomas’s memorial from a shortlist of five proposals, including designs by artists Krzysztof Wodiczko, Adam Pendleton, and Yinka Shonibare, in 2019.

Now, the monumental artwork has an approximate launch date: October 2022, just in time for a Boston-based summit of music, arts, and civic educational work centered around issues and racial and economic justice. 

The Embrace, as the memorial is called, will be installed on a new plaza named after Dr. King’s 1965 march from Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood to Boston Common. The event came a day after King spoke in favor of desegregating schools at a joint legislative session at the Massachusetts State House.

King Boston executive director Imari Paris Jeffries tells Midnight Publishing Group News that he hopes the memorial—which arrives at a time when the United States is reckoning with what kind of history its monuments tell—will “inspire a new civic narrative.”

“Boston has the opportunity to be the very first city in the nation to emerge post-vaccine as a place that embodies values of justice,” Jeffries says. “Now more than ever people want to ’embrace’ friends, loved ones, and each other. This is a symbol of that sentiment.”

A rendering of<i>The Embrace</i> on the Boston Common. Courtesy of King Boston.

A rendering of The Embrace on the Boston Common. Courtesy of King Boston.

King Boston has raised some $12 million for the project so far, over half of which has come in since June of this year, according to the Boston Globe, when cities around the country saw Black Lives Matter demonstrations flood their streets. Jeffries and his team are hoping to secure another $3 million in private and corporate donations.

The urgency of this moment, Jeffries says, has only been underscored by the lockdown era, which has “exacerbated social inequality and revealed, as King reminded us, that we are tied together in ‘an inescapable network of mutuality’ and a ‘single garment of destiny.’”

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