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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)
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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.

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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.

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.

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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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