'Unity' By New Yorker Hank Willis Thomas Has Generated Debate Among Borough Residents, With Some Interpreting It As Exclusionary


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Brooklyn’s newest sculpture is drawing a lot of attention. It was installed this past weekend and there is already buzz surrounding its meaning.

The borough’s newest sculpture towers over the streets at 22 1/2 feet tall. The big bronze arm sits right at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and points towards the sky, CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas reported.

“It’s about unity, hope, coming together. Also in New York, people don’t look up, so it’s a call to action,” creator Hank Willis Thomas said.

“Unity” took about five years to create and was modeled after NBA athlete Joel Embiid’s arm and hand.

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But like any work of art, its meaning is up for interpretation every time someone sees it.

“I like the way it looks. … It’s cool. It’s bringing a different feel to the area,” one person said.

“It’s very interesting that it’s pointing to the sky,” resident Kim Vu added.

“I have some challenges with it. Cultural interpretations are so important,” added Kate Sweeney. “Well, if you think about the idea of number one, it’s exclusionary. It’s somebody is better than somebody else.”

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While some New Yorkers feel it has other meanings, some are positive and some are not.

“I instantly recognized it as the Muslim symbol for Tawhid,” said Todd Fine, demonstrating how it is displayed. “It’s a very common symbol. It represents the unity of God.”

However, “ISIS has used this gesture very prominently in some of their media and on members, but it’s a very common Muslim gesture,” Fine said.

Fine, an activist, said the sculpture should be looked at from every perspective of unity, through both a good and bad lens. The artist, however, said he hopes people just see light.

“All art is up for interpretation and if you see hope or hate, it’s kind of up to you,” Thomas said.

The Department of Cultural Affairs commissioned and funded the piece for the area, which is in the midst of renovation.

“There’s nothing other than very positive that this work is portraying and it just reflects what you’re thinking,” said Kendal Henry of the Department of Cultural Affairs.

However you may interpret it, many say public art is important to ensure everyone can enjoy the works without having to pay an entrance fee to a museum.

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