The Last Day of Martin Luther King

  • Click on image to enlarge

    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Wood, carpet, rope carpet, wire screen, metal pans, broken glass, broom
80 x 113.5 x 4.5 inches
Collection of
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

In his earliest paintings and sculptures, Thornton Dial expressed the theme of continuous struggle through the iconic image of the tiger. In the most epic of the artist’s renderings, the character additionally assumes the guise of one of the greatest social heroes of all time, Martin Luther King Jr. … Using the story of Christ’s Last Supper and Crucifixion as a metaphor for King’s impending murder, Dial conflated sacred and secular events. Within the composition, a table setting of real pots and pans signifies the biblical meal, and a representation of Jesus comforts a likeness of King’s widow. The central black-and-white figure of the tiger, King himself, is made of twisted mop strings. This material, along with a nearby depiction of King’s mother formed from a broomhead, references the menial labor to which black people have been subjected since slavery. —Joanne Cubbs