Google Commissions Artist Ekua Holmes for MLK Doodle

When you conduct your Google searches today, you will experience the work of Ekua Holmes, a collage artist and Boston native commissioned by Google to create the popular Google Doodle, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. day.

It’s an art work that captures the essence and message of Dr. King as his philosophical teachings spoke to brotherhood, unity and peace.

There’s a vibrancy in her work and story depicted in each brush stroke. Fueled with energy and message, Holmes creates with sound purpose.

JET caught up with the artist behind the image to discuss her Google opportunity, visual storytelling and the significance of Dr. King and the people that stood with him.

JET:There’s a vibrant energy when experiencing your visual narrative. Can you talk about the importance and use of color when creating your art?

Ekua: In terms of the colors, when I was very young, making art made an impression upon me. Back then, you had your Crayola crayons and everything was sort of those primary colors and I think that really made an impact upon me at a young age. So, I’m still working with the same palette, although it may be a little bit more sophisticated, I’m still with the red, blue, green and yellow crayon.

I think that’s where it comes from. And also, the things that we played with in my childhood, were things like paper dolls, color forms and things that had to do with arranging shapes. So I think well, maybe that’s why this medium fits me so well.

JET: At first look at your Google Doodle, it connected me with the circle of brotherhood ideology Dr. King lived by. What does this art work mean to you and what are your hopes when the world sets their eyes on it? Was there a message you wanted to attract?

Ekua: In doing the research for this and doing the research on the people who placed themselves on the front line of this movement, I noticed that they were linked together like a strong chain and that it wasn’t just one person, but it was multiple people that contributed to this movement. Dr. King may be the face of this movement but without those other people behind, the movement just wouldn’t have had the impact that it did. And I noticed that each person is so individual and when they pull together as a group, they can make great change.

I think of it like a “chain of change.” I really got that and then also Langston Hughes has this quote about belonging to all the hands that build. So everybody that participated in what ever small way, they were a part of that movement. So that’s what struck me about that particular scene.

JET: How did the Google opportunity present itself? Did someone from the company reach out to you or was there a submission process?

EKUA: They reached out to me and when I got the first email, I kind of thought that it was a gag, I didn’t believe it. It was a very short message of ‘we’d like to work on a project with you‘ and I sent back an email asking them to tell me more because I’m thinking ‘yeah, Google’s getting in touch with you for a project, right.’ Then Ryan got back to me and explained.

I didn’t even know what a Google Doodle was and Ryan [Google representative] explained it to me and I looked at all of this great work that Google had been doing on these holiday’s around the world.

It’s a great honor. I guess it shows the power of the Internet and the Google search!

JET: Exactly! Knowing that your art work is going to be seen by billions of people, how does that make you feel as an artist and the creator of this piece?

Ekua: I think I’m still a little bit stunned right now, to be honest. Even though I completed the piece and we’re having this conversation, it still feels like an out of body experience – like it’s happening over there and I’m over here and I don’t know,Monday morning, when I wake up, what that’s going to feel like.

But one of the things that I’m most happy about is that Martin Luther King went to school here in Boston but he also preached in my neighborhood of Roxbury and that’s where he met his wife and so our paths really overlap. Where he lived is like two blocks away from where my studio is. So, it’s great to feel his presence still here, in Boston and to be able to talk about the power of that man.

"Golden" From the "there's no place like home" collection. (Courtesy: Ekua Holmes)

“Golden” From the “there’s no place like home” collection. (Courtesy: Ekua Holmes)

JET: Wow! That is really significant. Knowing this history, did that add any weighted pressure when working on the Google project?

Ekua: Yes, I think it added pressure in a good way. But, I also really believe that our role models are those people within arm’s reach who make the biggest impact. The fact that he lived here, literally down the street. I met a man that attended the church where he preached and their family would always invite him over to dinner and Martin Luther King, Jr. ate Sunday dinner at his house. He just remembered as a kid saying ‘Oh my God when is this going to be over?” but then later, he realized that this profound person was sitting at his kitchen table.

I think that sometimes when we look at history as something close as oppose to something just in a book or far away, we see it as in our arm’s reach, that’s a great message for young people, too. History is not something that happens to us, it’s something we participate in.

JET: Given your work within the community, what is the importance of bridging art and community in addition to the idea of it being accessible in a way that reaches youth and gets them interested in visual, and in some cases, historic storytelling?

Ekua: There are lots of different ways to tell stories and the visual arts is a profound way to do it and it really gets people talking about things that may not normally come up in conversation.

I’ve had shows where people would come up and a particular piece resonated with them and then we’d get into these conversations about history, family dynamics and it can be a very healing force, a very unifying force. It just happens to be my particular style of storytelling and I think it’s accessible to everyone, regardless of what your race is. I think it crosses a lot of boundaries.

JET: Well, again congratulations on this amazing opportunity! Is there anything you’d like to add?

Ekua: I would just like to say thank you to the community that nurtured me and gave birth to me and encouraged me to be an artist at a time when it wasn’t really a popular choice, and encouraged me to follow my dreams and vision – from the littlest of things to the biggest.

Check out more of Ekua’s work, here!