If the Los Angeles school district moves forward with plans to paint over a controversial mural at a Koreatown campus, artist Shepard Fairey said in comments reported Monday that he will insist on the removal of his large outdoor portrait of Robert F. Kennedy at the school named after him.
In support of artist Beau Stanton, Fairey told the Los Angeles Times that he would call for the removal of his mural of Kennedy at the RFK Schools campus on Wilshire Boulevard. Kennedy was murdered at the site of the then-Ambassador Hotel in 1968.
“I’m proud of that mural,” Fairey said of his own work. “I’d love for that mural to stay, but this is the only leverage I have.”
On Sunday, one of Kennedy’s children voiced support for Stanton and for Fairey’s response, The Times reported.
The school district announced this month that it would erase Stanton’s mural after a group of Korean activists complained. The activists object to a representation of sun rays in the background because it reminds them of the Japanese imperial battle flag, which they associate with atrocities before and during World War II.
But Fairey and other critics say the L.A. Unified School District acted too hastily when it acquiesced to these complaints, which arose in recent months. The mural, which depicts actress Ava Gardner against a background of sun rays, was painted more than two years ago at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex.
Fairey said it’s important for the school district to understand that it made a poor decision in succumbing to what it apparently considered to be the path of least resistance. The artist said he wants to create and encourage some counter-resistance.
His Kennedy mural is arguably one of the school’s defining visual elements. It is on an outside wall of the entrance to the library, which is built on the footprint of the Ambassador Hotel ballroom where Kennedy gave his last speech, in 1968. Moments later, an assassin fatally shot the presidential candidate in a pantry area next to the kitchen.
A Shepard Fairey mural of Robert F. Kennedy stands above the entrance to the school library, which is built on the footprint of the ballroom where Kennedy gave his final speech.
On Sunday afternoon, Fairey provided an email he’d sent to school board President Monica Garcia, who represents Koreatown.
“I have talked to a teacher from RFK about where the students stand, and they overwhelmingly want the mural to stay,” Fairey wrote to Garcia. *If Beau’s mural is removed I will reach out to students to have them take part in my mural being painted over as a symbol of the sacrifices that are sometimes necessary to stand up for important principles.”
Neither Garcia nor other school board members have responded to a request for comment. Nor has Superintendent Austin Beutner.