Watson's DREAM come trueMonday, January 18, 2021
BY BRIAN BONITTO
TODAY America observes Martin Luther King Jr Day, a Federal holiday, and Jamaican artist Basil Watson has a lot to celebrate. His 18-foot statue of the civil rights leader was erected in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday.
"It went up on the cusp of Martin Luther King (MLK) weekend...The timing and the socio-political environment that we're in is very timely, and people are very appreciative of the message. People are looking for positive messages...The message of love and the message of peace," the 63-year-old Watson told the Jamaica Observer.
In recent times, the United States has seen sharp divisions along political and racial lines. On January 6 there was an attack on the US Capitol in Washington, DC, by rioters supporting President Donald Trump; they were disputing the election results of November 3. That incident left five people dead, including a police officer.
In May last year, racial tensions flared surrounding George Floyd's death and the removal of Confederate statues from public spaces.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black American, was killed in Minnesota during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. A white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while he was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life.
Floyd's death triggered global protests against police brutality and racism.
The sculpture was installed on the corridor in front of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium near Martin Luther King Jr Drive. The two-and-a-half-year labour of love is the centrepiece, and the first of seven objects for the strip.
"I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to do it, so there is a strong feeling of pride. Despite the restrictions we're under it is a serendipitous moment that, at this time, we should be putting up the sculpture," said Watson, an Atlanta resident.
"It went up Thursday morning and by early afternoon the mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, came and we had ribbon cutting and a photo shoot. They kept it soft because of COVID, so it was very low-keyed. The promise is for a larger ceremony in the year when COVID is down and when of the rest of the development of the Martin Luther King boulevard corridor is completed," he continued.
Watson is the son of master artist Barrington Watson, who passed away in January 2016 at age 85.
Born in Atlanta, King was a Baptist minister and leader of the civil rights movement. In 1955 he led the Montgomery bus boycott (in Alabama) and was a mainstay of the 1963 march on Washington, where he delivered his seminal 'I Have A Dream' speech.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964. King was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee, in April 1968.
Watson is no stranger to projects of this magnitude. His Cradle-Future in our Hands is on display at Neighborhood Union Health Center in Vine City, Atlanta.
In 2017 he created a seven-foot statue of sprint legend Usain Bolt at the National Stadium in Kingston. His other works include statues of sprinters Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Merlene Ottey, and Herb McKenley.
Last year, his monument of Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett-Coverley was unveiled in Gordon Town, St Andrew.
Watson was awarded the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) in 2016 by the Jamaican Government.
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