If Beau Stanton’s Ava Gardner mural is removed from the Robert F. Kennedy school I have chosen to insist that my portrait mural of Robert F. Kennedy be removed also. Not only do I stand with Beau and believe that his beautiful and benevolent mural has nothing to do with the Japanese battle flag, I also believe that the action to remove his mural is a disservice to the man the school is named for and whose philosophies certainly diverge from censorship and intolerance as a course of action. I sympathize with all victims of injustice, including Koreans who suffered at the hands of the Japanese, but perpetrating another injustice by removing Beau Stanton’s mural based on false claims that it represents the Japanese battle flag where no such connection exists, is foolish and selfish.
Ironically, I think the only way to serve what R.F.K. stood for is to use the threat of the removal of his portrait mural to stand up for artistic expression over reactionary misinterpretation and censorship. I’m very proud that R.F.K’s sons Max and Bobby Kennedy Jr. agree that removing Beau Stanton’s mural is the wrong decision. A few R.F.K. quotes seem to fit this unfortunate situation and the top one below reflects my reason for standing up for my own beliefs while the bottom two reflect the dead end of attempting to appease the intolerant minority. Contrary views, paranoia, and intolerance will always exist, but we are defined by how we respond to the challenges they create. I understand the LAUSD is in an uncomfortable situation, but standing for the right principles is not always comfortable or easy.
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends for that tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
“One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time.”
“What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. ”
Additionally, I have talked to a teacher from RFK about where the students stand, and they overwhelmingly want the mural to stay. If Beau’s mural is removed I will reach out to students to have them take part in my mural being painted over a symbol of the sacrifices that are sometimes necessary to stand up for important principles. Please reconsider the LAUSD’s position. – Shepard
UPDATE – RESPONSE FROM ROY CHOI:
Shepard called me asking in true humility if I saw the concerns brought up around this mural so he can understand it if it did cross a line, but to
be honest I don’t see the issue. I went deep into the well of subconscious and still didn’t see it. The rays felt more like radio signals to me than the
rising sun flag and while the visual trigger may create the illusion of similarity, the piece does not represent that war torn era of atrocities to me at all. I think instead of removal, the schools should teach the real histories instead and use this debate as a platform for more truths and not just reactionary rhetoric. The moment of truth has placed itself on our spiritual laps, see it as a gift versus a protest. – Roy Choi
UPDATE – AirTalk: Shepard Fairey, Korean Americans and LA’s art community weigh in on K-town school mural
LETTERS FROM THE KENNEDY FAMILY
I hope you will reconsider plans to obliterate Beau Stanton’s portrait of Ava Gardiner at the RFK school. The destruction of art for political purpose is the signature weapon of demagogues and tyrants and the enduring emblem of fascist governments.
Prior to World War Two, fascist organizations in Germany and Japan organized book and art burnings in successful campaigns to glorify intolerance and bigotry and rally the darkest impulses of tribalism in their thirst for political power.
The lethal barbarism of those incoming regimes brutalized their neighbors (including Korea) and touched my own family. My father lost his elder brother Joe and his brother-in-law, Billy Hartington fighting the nazi war machine. His brother Jack received the Purple Heart for wounds incurred during battle of Blackett Straights against the Japanese Imperial Navy. A Japanese Destroyer, Amagiri, cut Jack’s PT boat in two killing two of his crew and greviously wounding two others. My uncle was lost at sea and presumed dead for ten days.
As a seven year old boy in January 1961, I shook hands with the Amagiri’s Japanese Commander, Kohei Hamani, at my Uncle’s Presidential inauguration Jack had invited him as a characteristically American gesture of reconciliation with a former foe.
My father was sympathetic to cultural sensitivities. But he understood that the central bedrock tenets of American democracy are freedom of speech and expression. As fiercely as they supported tolerance, and diversity, my father and my uncle loathed censorship.
JFK’s passion for unexpurgated art inspired his family, friends and supporters to create the Kennedy Center (to celebrate the role of art and culture in democracy) as his principle memorial in Washington.
In JFKs estimation, ”Art is very close to to the center of a nation’s purpose.” The esteem and respect with which we treat our artists, he argued “is a test of a nation’s civilization“ JFK pointed out that unlike political propaganda which is the vessel for duplicity, manipulation and lies, ”Art is truth” and that “in a democratic society, the highest duty of the artist is to remain true to himself [rather than a political agenda]” It is their unique capacity to convey existential truths that make artists a despised threat to despots. And for this reason, citizens who love democracy will flock to the barricades to shield artists from government censors ( including LAUSD!)
The obliteration of Beau Stanton’s painting is antithetical to all the values that my father and his family believed were central to the American traditions of democracy, idealism and fearless free expression. My father and uncles considered people who destroyed art in the service of political agendas as the worst sort of scoundrels. My father’s lifelong celebration of unbridled expression and artistic creativity and his antipathy toward censorship make the destruction of Mr. Stanton’s painting a searing offense to his memory.
Finally, there is so much reprehensible and irrational about this scheme that one could write a thesis enumerating the idiotic flaws that catacomb the shallow arguments in its favor. Allow me to mention just one; LAUSD’s rationale for effacing Mr. Stanton’s artwork is based upon a mistaken presumption that, itself, is rooted in prejudice;the painting’s key detractor has charged that the work “depicts“ (not, ”resembles”) a Japanese battle flag, an assertion for which he offers no evidence and which both common sense and the artist adamantly deny. That highly subjective interpretation of the piece was a stretch from the outset; There is no evidence of Japan’s signature rising sun in the painting and, as LA Times art critic Christopher Knight has pointed out, Stanton’s blue and orange light shafts number 45 in contrast to the 16 scarlet on white sun rays on the Japanese Imperial flag. The star-rays emanating from the starlet’s portrait are a common artistic motif. Does LAUSD want to ban the painting of light rays? One might, in fact, argue that Stanton’s work no more resembles the Japanese flag then a crucifix resembles a swastica.! If we suddenly begin silencing expression based on speculative and highly subjective interpretive musings of self-appointed thought police, it’s easy to see that there will be no end to the reach of the censors.
For these and innumerable other good reasons, I strongly urge the LA Unified School District to abandon this ill advised project.
Robert F Kennedy jr
We are aware of the power of symbols and we stand with Shepard Fairey and Beau Stanton against the school board’s censorship of public art. 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. The School Board stands in place of the city government in this case, and we simply cannot allow the government to censor public art—else, in the end, we will be left with only a watered down notion of what art really is. I believe that if Beau’s art is to be painted over, that Shepard is absolutely correct in having his work also painted through. We cannot allow small groups to dictate what is and what is not public art.
Public art should spur discussion–not just of artistic value–but also about what we as Americans value. – Maxwell Kennedy