The Los Angeles Unified School District has decided to paint over a mural on a public school gym in Koreatown because it includes rays that remind them of the Japanese battle flag, evoking memories of Japanese atrocities against Koreans in World War II.

The mural actually depicts Ava Gardner. The artist intended it as an homage to the Cocoanut Grove, which once stood nearby. But Korean groups say the mural is as offensive to them as a swastika would be to Jews or a burning cross to African Americans.

At issue are the rays radiating out from Gardner’s face, which they say look like those on the rising sun of the imperial Japanese battle flag used during World War II, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The protests of the Wilshire Community Coalition have prompted the LAUSD to take assertive action. The district has agreed to paint over the mural at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex during winter break, Roberto Martinez, the senior school district administrator for that region, told The Times.

The artist who painted the mural is stunned, according to The Times. So is the National Coalition Against Censorship, which represents a variety of groups including the American Association of School Administrators and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Removing the mural sets a dangerous precedent of submission to public pressure in assessing art and allowing students’ access to diverse viewpoints and ideas, the coalition said in a statement.

Martinez estimated that removing and replacing the mural would cost about $20,000.

“Art is intended to celebrate the human spirit, not to offend the community,” Martinez said. “If we have offended anybody, I apologize.”

Beau Stanton, who had donated his time to paint the mural, was taken by surprise, The Times reported.

“I’m really disappointed,” said Stanton, who was in Miami on business when the district made its decision public. “My understanding was that this event was going to be a conversation. I had heard that teachers from the school were going to be speaking on my behalf. I was hoping we could have this opportunity to speak to the community and assuage some of these concerns.”

Those who objected to the rays on the 30-by-40-foot image say they are too reminiscent of the controversial flag.

“This flag symbolizes the Japanese military aggression which resulted in (some) of the most horrendous and gruesome crimes against humanity in human history,” the Wilshire Community Coalition wrote in a Nov. 15 letter to the school system.

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