Lobby 7 art installation, gospel concerts add to celebration


Reflections, an installation in Lobby 7 to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was designed to "confront everyone who passed through to reflect on the struggles that have affected their lives," said Eto Otitigbe, a senior in mechanical engineering and design coordinator for the project.

Reflections filled the chilly, cavernous Infinite Corridor entryway from February 3-5. Its contemplative message of hope was amplified into one of resounding joy by two gospel groups on Thursday, Feb. 4.

The installation and two gospel concerts comprised the post-breakfast celebration following MIT's 25th annual event to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King.

Three dramatic design elements established a memorial space to Dr. King, especially evoking the site at which Dr. King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.

A pair of long, low, triangular barriers covered in heavy silver material extended through Lobby 7 from the outside doors to the Infinite Corridor entrance. The shimmering, knee-high "roofs" suggested the long reflecting pool in Washington, DC. They simultaneously narrowed the steady traffic flow and shifted each walker's gaze to enlarged photo images, hung at second-floor level over each Lobby 7 hallway entrance.

The photo images showed two scenes from Washington associated with the "I Have a Dream" speech: over the door out to Massachusetts Avenue hung an image of the Lincoln Memorial; over the Infinite Corridor was one of the Washington Monument.

The height and placement of the two Washington images, combined with the twin "reflecting pools," gave participants both a sense of being contained within a historic space and also a sense of what Dr. King saw as he looked out on the crowd.

The third design element, sharply rendered black cutouts of figures dancing, praying, laboring and bowing, marked each of the four corners of the lobby. The dramatic silhouettes, reminiscent of the sculptural dance forms created by choreographer Alvin Ailey, "climbed" each of the four columns in Lobby 7, forming pillars of people standing, literally, on the strength of those who had gone before them.

Lawrence Sass, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Architecture and Planning, and Tobie Weiner, undergraduate administrator in the Department of Political Science, served as advisors to the MLK Design Seminar. Other advisors included Dick Fenner, manager of the Pappalardo Laboratories; Arthur Ganson, artist-in-residence; and Edward McCluney, director of the Student Art Association.

"The MLK project symbolizes a very necessary acknowledgment of the ideals and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," said Mr. Otitigbe.

Mr. Otitigbe, whose "passion in life is for the arts, with a deep interest in science and technology," described his experience working on the MLK installation as "an opportunity for me to merge my passion and my education in order to address a social problem.

"The social problem in this case was the high level of apathy amongst the MIT community. I feel that initiative counters apathy and the MLK celebration is a time when the initiative of Dr. King and various members of the MIT community is celebrated," he said.

The hardest part of the design process, he said, was "integrating the ideas of a large group of people into one single design concept." Yet Reflections did achieve its goal.

"The most successful aspect of the installation was that it, indeed, confronted people as they passed through Lobby 7. Many people saw their reflection in the abstractions of the pools, and they related their reflection to the people on the columns. It was a chance for many to consider all the people who struggled and even died in order for them to be here today," Mr. Otitigbe said.

Other design team members included Oreoluwa Adeyemi, a junior in management; seniors Alan Feng and Aaron Winthers of mechanical engineering; juniors Daniel W. Rodriguez and Andrew A. Ryan and senior David McGill of electrical engineering and computer science; Erica Imani Shelton, a senior in chemical engineering; Jose Antonio Vera, a senior in economics and mechanical engineering; Elton Dean, a sophomore in nuclear engineering; juniors Puja Gupta and Kerone Peat and senior Ayana Mohammad of chemical engineering; and Ed Mitchell, a junior in mathematics.

Three students from Wellesley College -- Bande Mangaliso, Monique Calahan and Rachana Khandelwal -- also participated.

The team experience was meaningful both personally and intellectually, members said.

"Being in the design team has been quite enlightening. It did bring about an opportunity to focus on a social issue -- civil rights -- with an application of the arts and technology, an interesting concept," said Mr. Adeyemi.

"When Eto approached me with the idea of constructing an installation in Lobby 7, I was very enthusiastic. This would give me the opportunity to really focus my design skills," said Mr. Feng. "When he told me it was a Martin Luther King memorial for Black History Month, I kind of hesitated. I asked myself, 'Do I belong in this group that is trying to raise the awareness of black history?' The only answer I could think of was a question: 'Why not?' Civil rights have been an issue to this very day with blacks and with Asians.

"I don't have a loud voice, but I'm trying to represent a very silent minority. In having some of my ideas realized in this installation, I feel like my voice is being heard," he said.

Mr. Rodriguez took the MLK Design Seminar "in order to take a different route than the usual technological class. I wanted to open up my artistic side and felt that taking part in this class and honoring one of my most distinguished frat brothers, Martin Luther King Jr., was the way to do it," he said.

Mr. Rodriquez is vice president of the Rho Nu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha and co-chair of the Black Students Union.

Two gospel groups performed in Lobby 7 as part of the post-breakfast celebration. Ain'a That Good News, a Gospel quartet, performed at noon, filling the busy lobby with an hour-long history of gospel music.

Ain'a That Good News performed well-known songs, including "Oh, Happy Day," "This Little Light of Mine" and "He's Got the Whole World," a favorite of Dr. King's often sung by Mahalia Jackson.The South Mass Choir, a full choir directed by Darryll Maston and accompanied by two keyboard players, a violinist and a drummer, performed from 5-6pm.

The success of Reflections as a setting for both contemplation and celebration was complete when the South Mass Choir sang "I Believe I Can Fly." Not only were audience members clapping, swaying and singing along, but way up on the third-floor balcony, overlooking the crowd, members of a cleaning crew were dancing and waving their hands as well.

"Lobby 7 has never been like this," commented Paul Parravano, co-director of the Office of Government and Community Relations.

This year's post-breakfast celebration was coordinated by Arnold Henderson, associate dean and section head, Counseling and Support Services; Trudy Morris, house manager, Office of Residential Life and Student Life programs; and Ms. Weiner.

Ms. Weiner also serves as the program administrator for the MIT Washington Summer Internship Program and as coordinator for the local MIT Political Science Internship Program . She has been advisor to a freshman seminar entitled, "The Civil Rights Movement and Beyond" for eight years.

Speaking of Reflections, she said, "We hope the IAP MLK Design Seminar will be an annual event."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 10, 1999.


Topics: Arts

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