LOS ANGELES – The removal of a mural at a school campus in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood that bears a similarity to the Imperial Japanese Army’s flag has been put on hold, the Los Angeles Unified School District said this week.
“As a result of the extensive input, there is a need to have additional conversation,” Eugene Hernandez, administrator of operations for the school district, wrote in an email to stakeholders on Monday. “Therefore, we will not be taking immediate action on the mural at this time.”
The decision came after the school district said last week it would remove the mural at the campus of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools over the upcoming winter break after hearing local community members and organizations’ concerns that the sun ray motif depicts brutality by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II. At the same time, some people were against the district’s earlier plan to paint over the mural, citing concerns over the right to free expression.
The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that artist Shepard Fairey, who painted a mural of the schools’ namesake, Robert F. Kennedy, said he would call for its removal if the schools follow through with the replacement of the disputed mural. Fairey is best known for creating the “Hope” poster that former U.S. President Barack Obama adopted during his 2008 presidential campaign.
More than two years ago, artist Beau Stanton painted the now-contentious mural of classical Hollywood actress Ava Gardner, which pays homage to the campus’ history as the former site of the Ambassador Hotel — where Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 — and the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, which the actress frequented.
But the rays of light emanating from Gardner’s profile — a motif found in several of Stanton’s works around the world — resembles Japan’s Rising Sun flag, the Wilshire Community Coalition told the school district in November, likening its effect to that of the Nazi swastika.
“This flag symbolizes the Japanese military aggression which resulted in one of the most of horrendous and gruesome crimes against humanity in human history,” the coalition wrote in a joint letter with Korean organizations and community members.
The flag features 16 rays of red sunlight emanating from a red sun on a white background. Stanton’s mural utilizes 44 red-orange and blue rays projecting from behind Gardner’s face, overlaid with images of palm trees, a monkey and a Moorish arch.
Besides Fairey, Stanton also counts Kennedy’s son, Maxwell Kennedy, as an advocate for the preservation for his mural.
Controversy over the Rising Sun in Canada saw a secondary school on the outskirts of Vancouver, British Columbia, remove the flag from a history classroom after a student of Korean descent collected thousands of signatures in a petition to “Take off the Sun Rise Flag in an Educational Environment.”
South Korea and Japan clashed in October over Japan’s continued use of the Rising Sun flag on its naval ships. Ahead of an international naval review in South Korea, Japan withdrew its ships after Seoul requested that participating countries only raise their national flags, along with South Korea’s, on their warships.