Story by Alison Wang
Image courtesy of Zach Brown
The Public Arts Commission approved the Anti-Bias Club’s updated designs for a Black Lives Matter (BLM) mural at Orange Grove Park during its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 22. This approval follows the more than year-long effort by members of the club to design and find a location for their mural promoting anti-racism.
Seniors Noah Kuhn and Lulu Talesnick founded the Anti-Bias Club in October 2019 after attending a school-sponsored Anti-Defamation League training, and have recruited equity-minded students to make SPHS and the greater community more inclusive. In June 2020, club officers formed a five-member committee — comprised of Talesnick, Kuhn, junior Alexa Morales, senior Maya Turun, and Class of 2021 alumnus Khalil Murdock — to create a mural following the murder of George Floyd and subsequent nationwide BLM protests. The committee began the process by soliciting community input via Zoom, before settling on a vision of intersectionality, resilience, and celebration. A Public Arts Commission ad hoc committee led by Chair Phung Huynh helped the students put out a request for proposals to local artists. From about 20 submissions, the top three were selected and given interviews.
The group chose Zach Brown in November 2020 for his experience as a visual artist, teacher of incarcerated youth, and an activist at the California African American Museum, plus his interactive design. Collaborations to finish the design hit a temporary roadblock when the City put a stop to the initial location at City Hall for liability concerns. The group pivoted to the Orange Grove Park site and successfully requested permission for use from the Parks and Recreation Commission. The new location necessitated an updated design, so the group returned to the Public Arts Commission for a fifth time on Sept. 22.
The mural is a celebration of Black people and Black power, with the overall goal to promote anti-racism in South Pasadena. Rather than focusing on the victimhood of Black people, the mural chooses instead to uplift influential Black figures, such as Marsha P. Johnson, Ida B. Wells, and Angela Davis.
“The goal of the mural is to educate and to bring awareness to important Black figures and the Black community in general,” Talesnick said. “[We want] to highlight and celebrate the many different aspects and the intersectionality of the Black community.”
Sunrays in the mural’s foreground represent South Pasadena’s past as a sundown town, which meant BIPOC were not allowed within the city limits at night. South Pasadena was virtually all white until the early 1960s, when federally-funded Monterey Hills was mandated to be open to everyone.
The mural also includes local BLM protestors London Lang and Fahren James, who catalyzed conversations about racism in South Pasadena. Furthermore, the far right end of the mural is intentionally left blank for people to stand in, signifying that everyone has a role in the anti-racism movement.
“Hopefully this can usher in a new era of change in South Pasadena,” Turun said. “And educate about the city’s history as a sundown town [which is] a major part of our history that not many people know about.”
The Anti-Bias Club will soon present the BLM mural to the City Council for approval, after which it can begin fundraising $10,000 for the project to be painted.