This Controversial Mural At A Koreatown School Will Stay Up After All

The controversial mural of Hollywood legend actress Ava Gardner by muralist Beau Stanton is situated at the Robert F. Kennedy Community School in Los Angeles, California on Dec. 13, 2018. (Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Unified School District announced Monday that it would not remove a controversial mural depicting actress Ava Gardner at a school campus in Koreatown.

The announcement follows an ongoing dispute between artist Beau Stanton, the school district and community activists.


Stanton painted the mural more than two years ago on a wall at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex. The work shows a profile of Ava Gardner, along with imagery — such as palm trees and a Grecian pillar — intended to honor the legendary Cocoanut Grove nightclub, once located near the school complex. The mural also depicts red and blue rays of sunlight appearing to emanate from behind Gardner's head.

It's those rays with which community activists take issue: the Imperial Japanese Army's battle flag used similar-looking rays, but in red and white rather than red and blue.

University of Redlands professor Keith Osajima said the imagery could be disturbing, particularly to people of Korean descent.

"It is a reminder of the kind of terrible relationship between Japan and Korea that has happened historically," Osajima said. "During the war, the Japanese army went through Korea, they committed war atrocities and mistreated women and comfort women."

Osajima added that the fact that Stanton's mural went up directly next to Koreatown may have added additional pain.


Stanton explained that he frequently uses imagery referencing rays of light in his work, and that in this case, it was an aesthetic choice, not a political one.

"The background design is pretty common in my work," he told KPCC's AirTalk. "I usually use it to create a sort of...dynamic sense, and to bring the viewer's attention to a focal point as well as to sort of project out this sort of sense of light."

LAUSD had acquiesed to activists who wanted the mural taken down or covered up, but over the weekend, artist Shepard Fairey got involved in the dispute. Fairey, who also painted a mural on the school's campus that went up over two years ago, announced on his Instagram that he would paint over his mural if the school followed through on the removal of Stanton's.

View this post on Instagram

If Beau Stanton's Ava Gardner mural is removed from the Robert F. Kennedy school I have chosen to insist that my portrait mural of Robert F. Kennedy be removed also. Not only do I stand with Beau and believe that his beautiful and benevolent mural has nothing to do with the Japanese battle flag, I also believe that the action to remove his mural is a disservice to the man the school is named for and whose philosophies certainly diverge from censorship and intolerance as a course of action. I sympathize with all victims of injustice, including Koreans who suffered at the hands of the Japanese, but perpetrating another injustice by removing Beau Stanton's mural based on false claims that it represents the Japanese battle flag where no such connection exists, is foolish and selfish. Ironically, I think the only way to serve what R.F.K. stood for is to use the threat of the removal of his portrait mural to stand up for artistic expression over reactionary misinterpretation and censorship. I'm very proud that R.F.K's sons Max and Bobby Kennedy Jr. agree that removing Beau Stanton's mural is the wrong decision. A few R.F.K. quotes seem to fit this unfortunate situation and the top one below reflects my reason for standing up for my own beliefs while the bottom two reflect the dead end of attempting to appease the intolerant minority. Contrary views, paranoia, and intolerance will always exist, but we are defined by how we respond to the challenges they create. I understand the LAUSD is in an uncomfortable situation, but standing for the right principles is not always comfortable or easy. - Shepard ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ "It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ "One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time." Visit the link in bio for more details.

A post shared by Shepard Fairey (@obeygiant) on

Following Fairey's intervention and the subsequent media attention, the school district revisited the issue and put plans to cover Stanton's mural on hold.

Eugene Hernandez, an administrator of operations for the district, sent a message to stakeholders Monday that said, in part, that the district will "not be taking immediate action on the mural at this time."

Nick Roman contributed to this story.


Dec. 18, 5:29 p.m.: This article was updated with more background information about the dispute over the mural.

This article was originally published on Dec. 18 at 2:52 p.m.

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