Monday, January 26, 2009


A European artist has created an exhibit at the District’s Martin Luther King Jr. Library that recalls a 1960s protest that focused on the country’s poor.

London-based conceptual artist Matthew Thompson, 42, re-created a plywood shelter from the 1968 encampment on the Mall called Resurrection City, which followed the Poor People’s March planned by Martin Luther King. The event drew thousands of people to set up temporary residence within sight of the Capitol to show the plight of poor people.

Mr. Thompson’s exhibit arrives as the city implements rules that critics say will make library branches less inviting places for the homeless.

“The MLK Library is heavily used by the D.C. homeless population, almost like a day center where they can go and rest,” Mr. Thompson said. “I wanted to comment on that because it’s a microcosm of a relevant issue today.”

On Feb. 1, the library plans to implement such new rules as limiting the number of bags people can bring in and renew a ban on sleeping in the building.

However, officials also plan to eliminate an X-ray machine at the main entrance of the library - on G and Ninth Streets Northwest - and will allow food and drinks in designated areas.

“We actually consider ourselves one of the friendliest agencies to homeless,” said Pamela Stovall, the library’s associate director.

“We’re really an advocate for shelter for the homeless, but we do insist on our right to be a library.”

Miss Stovall said the exhibit was timed to coincide with the King holiday in January and Black History Month in February. It was only a coincidence that the exhibit came during the change in library rules, she said, adding the rules were not intended to target the homeless.

Advocates for the homeless said the bag restriction will hit homeless people the hardest, because they often have nowhere else to go during the day with their belongings.

The exhibit includes a glass case with documents related to the protest, such as an aerial photograph of Resurrection City, editorial cartoons about hunger and a diagram on how to construct shelters.

The shelter exhibit, on view at the library through Feb. 28, is called “Heir ist die Future.” The title combines French, German and English and can be translated as “yesterday is the future” or “here is the future.”

Mr. Thompson said the name is “quite cryptic” but reveals his intentions.

“I like this overlapping of the past and the present,” he said, “which parallels what I’m doing … re-enacting the past.”

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide