Street art confronting racism shows up on Abbot Kinney Boulevard

By Kelby Vera

The guerilla artwork’s central figure confronts disturbing images of racism

A racially-charged banner spotted last fall on the Santa Monica High School campus before security guards quickly removed it has returned — this time six feet tall and nearly eight feet wide, plastered on a concrete wall along bustling Abbot Kinney Boulevard. As before, the creator of the guerilla artwork remains a mystery.

Above the words “This is Amerikkka,” a young black woman wrapped in the American flag stands defiantly against a mosaic of nearly 100 smaller images, ranging from anachronistic depictions of blackface and minstrel figures to the leering faces of white American presidents. Amid prolific use of racial slurs, pointed pop culture references include a poster for the Klansman-lauding film “Birth of a Nation,” photos of Western icon John Wayne, a postage stamp commemorating Elvis Presley and multiple depictions of a lily-white Jesus.

Santa Monica’s grassroots Racial Justice Coalition held a public discussion of the collage in January. Some felt antagonized by the images; others praised “This is Amerikkka” (likely referring to Donald Glover’s song of the same name) as
a biting work of protest art.

Despite its scale and provocative racial imagery, on a recent afternoon many passersby appeared to stroll along oblivious to the piece in its new surroundings. Others simply gave it a nod before continuing on their way, barely stopping to consider it.

Perhaps those reactions are a sign of indifference to confronting racism among affluent shoppers and tourists. Or it could be that the dividing wall flanking the shuttered 1420 Abbot Kinney Blvd. storefront (between a boutique spa and the glasses shop Warby Parker) is easy to overlook. Maybe there’s just so much artwork along Abbot Kinney these days — much of it commercial in nature — that all the visual noise just drowns it out.

There was at least one fascinated passerby, however —a visitor from Amsterdam who felt a strong connection to the piece because of the Netherlands’ legacy of blackface to depict Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), a dark-skinned companion of St. Nicholas in holiday folklore.

“For me it’s interesting to see the comparison between the U.S. and the Netherlands,” the woman said. “In both places the discussions are not rational — very emotional because no one wants to confront the fact they might be part of the problem.”

Inspired? Offended? Underwhelmed?
Let our readers know what you think. Write to letters@argonautnews.com.

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