The city’s Public Art Commission heartily endorsed the design of the Black Lives Matter Mural being advanced by the South Pasadena High School Anti-Bias Club, but will continue to work with students in identifying a location for the permanent exhibit.
Commissioners unanimously gave the design the thumbs-up last week and plan to revisit the topic after their liaisons work with the club regarding placement of the artwork. For a number of reasons, the initial proposed location on a City Hall wall was removed from consideration, and the panel has been exploring other options.
“I think that’s really important for us to approve the concept and idea,” commission chair Phung Huynh said last week. “When they find the location, then we’ll have a second meeting to approve the location.”
The mural, illustrated by Los Angeles artist Zach Brown, is expected to be 39.5 feet wide and 14.4 feet high and depict a number of prominent Black figures throughout history — including abolitionist Sojourner Truth, activist Marsha P. Johnson, Congressman John Lewis, novelist James Baldwin and astronaut Mae C. Jemison. Images of South Pasadena activists London Lang and Fahren James, who helped organize the local BLM demonstrations last year, also will appear in the mural.
The depiction of sun rays shining across the image will be a reference to South Pasadena’s past reputation as a sundown town — an era in which Black people and other minorities were largely barred from residency in the city and risked their safety if they remained after work hours. A QR code accompanying the mural will link viewers to a website explaining who is in the mural and why they are significant.
Members of the Anti-Bias Club explained that the figures depicted in the mural highlight “Black strength, power and pride” and show the diversity of Black activism and achievement.
“Because we want to highlight these components, we will not be depicting any Black victims of racism and police brutality, especially since we want to show the resilience and spirit of Black individuals,” said SPHS senior Maya Turun, a club member, “so instead we will show famous and historical Black figures within the many Black social justice movements.”
The mural’s right side includes an empty space where people can pose there for photos.
“This is a key part of the mural,” Turun said. “The empty figure is supposed to signify the interactive aspect of the mural.”
The city had given conditional approval in October for the mural to be painted on the west-facing wall of City Hall, which looks out on a Chevron gas station lot. However, the city has identified potential liability concerns since the club added the interactive element to the mural — which would have been located near the gas station entrance. Additionally, the Chevron owner is planning to renovate the property, a project that would likely have interfered with the mural if it was placed there.
Noah Kuhn, another SPHS senior with the Anti-Bias Club, said the group was continuing to seek another location and indicated the South Pasadena Public Library as a potential spot. The club, he added, wants to maintain the interactive portion of the mural, which he said is “crucial” to its design.
“Any suggestions would be welcome, but that’s sort of where we’re at now,” Kuhn said. “Based on discussions, I don’t think City Hall would be an option whether we had the interactive piece or not.”