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Prominent artist defends colleague’s disputed school mural

A mural by artist Beau Stanton of actress Ava Gardner is seen at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex school in Los Angeles Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Protesters say the mural suggests the Japanese imperial battle flag, a symbol that offends Korean groups. The artist, Beau Stanton, denies any connection. The L.A. School District has agreed to paint over the mural during the winter break, said Roberto Martinez, the senior school district administrator for that region, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Artist Shepard Fairey will insist that one of his murals be removed from a Los Angeles school if officials follow through on plans to cover up another artist’s mural that some community activists find offensive, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

Fairey told the Times that seeking removal of his mural of Robert F. Kennedy is the only leverage he has to defend the disputed mural by fellow artist Beau Stanton.

Both murals are in the Koreatown section of the city, at the Robert F. Kennedy Schools Complex. The complex sits on the former site of the Ambassador Hotel, where Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.

Stanton’s mural depicts actress Ava Gardner’s face set against a backdrop of sun rays as a salute to the hotel’s legendary nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove, which was a popular hangout for Hollywood stars. Palm trees, a monkey and a Moorish arch superimposed on Gardner’s face evoke the club’s exotic decor.

But the Los Angeles Unified School District decided to paint over the mural after Korean activists contended the sun rays resembled those of the Japanese imperial battle flag and associated it with atrocities during Japan’s rule before and during World War II.

“Yeah, these things happened and they’re part of a terrible history, but this mural has nothing to do with that,” said Fairey, who created the Barack Obama “Hope” poster during the 2008 presidential campaign.

“What he has in his mural is nothing close to the battle flag. It’s not the same color scheme. It’s not the same focal element. It’s stupid to me. I thought that cooler heads would prevail because this is absurd.”

The Times reported last week that Roberto Martinez, senior school district administrator for the region, announced that the mural would be painted over during the winter break.

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

Mural protest leader Chan Yong “Jake” Jeong said that announcement represented “such a happy day.”

Stanton was stunned and later met with opponents of his work, but changed no minds.

On Sunday, Fairey provided the Times an email he sent to the school board president saying if the Stanton mural is removed he would 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.”

One of RFK’s children, attorney and author Maxwell Kennedy, agreed with Fairey.

“We are aware of the power of symbols and we stand with Shepard Fairey and Beau Stanton against the … censorship of public art,” Kennedy said in a statement to the Times. “Symbols can be hurtful and there are some symbols that should not be displayed. But rays of light are synonymous in this country with hope.”

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