The Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission and the Nebraska Arts Council have selected Nathan Murray of Lincoln to design and create the bust of Malcolm X, also known as Malcolm Little and El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, who will be inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 2024.
Dr. Sara Crook, chair of the Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission, says Murray’s enthusiasm and talent for the project impressed the selection committee.
“It is with great pleasure that the Nebraska Hal of Fame announces the selection of Nathan Murray as the sculptor for the Malcolm X bust,” said Crook. “We were very impressed with his enthusiasm for this project and look forward to the unveiling of the bust in the Nebraska Capitol in 2024.”
Murray was chosen through a selection process conducted by the Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission and the Nebraska Arts Council. Artists responded to the request with the selection committee choosing Murray to create the bust with a permanent home in the Nebraska State Capitol.
Meagan Dion, Public Art and Artist Program Specialist with the Nebraska Arts Council was involved in the process of finding artists for the project.
“In the Call for the Art, the Committee emphasized that the selected artist should be able to embody the characteristics of Malcolm X, listed as upright, confident, kind, thoughtful, disciplined, compassionate, humanitarian, dynamic, empowering, transformative, family. All the finalists created engaging and thoughtful interpretations of Malcolm X,” Dion said. “Nathan Murray’s proposed Malcolm X bust stood out as captivating and iconic. Murray embraced Malcolm X in a recognizable moment, where viewers will be able to engage with him and be more curious about the impact he made for others in Nebraska and beyond.”
Nathan Murray is a socially engaged artist and educator from Lincoln, Nebraska. His work explores issues of race, ethnicity, and intersectionality, particularly how these aspects of identity are expressed in people and their stories. Murray’s artistic practice centers around creating life-like clay sculptures that examine nuanced representations of people and contemporary issues.
Murray earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2009 and his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Florida in 2015. Murray has exhibited his work nationally and has been widely published in magazines, books, and online. Notably, his work from the exhibition “Color Theory” was featured on the cover of the March 2017 issue of Ceramics Monthly Magazine. Additionally, his work was featured in the 2023 book “Contemporary Black Ceramic Artists” by Chotsani Elaine Dean and Donald A. Clark.
He has received numerous awards and grants, including a residency at the Lux Center for the Arts in 2015 and a grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance in 2019. In 2022, he received the Mayor Art Award for Artistic Achievement. In 2023, Murray attended a residency at the Union for Contemporary Art.
Murray often teaches at Lux Center for the Arts and Nebraska Wesleyan University and recently taught a two-week workshop titled “Clay Identity: Sculpting Busts” at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado. Currently, Murray is working on his upcoming exhibition, “BIPOC of Nebraska,” featuring ceramic busts of remarkable Nebraskans of color.
“Malcolm X’s advocacy for human rights and his message of empowerment made him a pivotal figure not only for Nebraska but also on the world stage, inspiring generations to strive for equality and justice,” said Murray. “I am honored to have been selected to create a bronze for the Nebraska Hall of Fame.”
Joanna LeFlore-Ejike, Executive Director of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, says that Murray’s selection is fitting as his work represents the unique combination of art and social issues.
“We recognize this as a significant point in history as the community supported the idea of choosing Malcolm X to be the next Hall of Fame inductee. Nathan Murray is the right artist to help us make this installation a reality with his ongoing dedication to cultural preservation through art and activism,” LeFlore-Ejike said. “As we near the final stages of completion, I personally look forward to inviting those who want to be a part of a positive moment in history by joining us in person for the installation at the State Capitol in Lincoln and a community celebration in Omaha next spring.”
To be eligible for the Nebraska Hall of Fame, the person must have been born in Nebraska, gained prominence while living in Nebraska, or whose residence in Nebraska influenced their lives and contributed to their greatness. In addition, the inductee can only be considered 35 years after death.
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little at University Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 19, 1925. He was the son of Earl and Louise Little, 3448 Pinkney Street. Reverend Little helped organize the Universal Negro Improvement Association. After threats by night riders, the family moved to Milwaukee and later to Michigan, where Reverend Little allegedly was murdered. During his mother’s illness, Malcolm was sent to Boston, then to New York, where he committed burglary. While serving a six-and-one-half-year sentence, he became self-educated and converted to an American sect of Islam.
After leaving prison, Malcolm took the name Malcolm X, and studied under Elijah Muhammad. He became outspoken about the mistreatment of Blacks. His Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1964. During a pilgrimage to Mecca, he converted to orthodox Islam. He abandoned concepts of racial antagonism and counseled the need for human brotherhood and international cooperation. Malcolm X formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1964 and became renowned as an articulate spokesperson for human rights. Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City on February 21, 1965.