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Only two of San Francisco's 87 public sculptures depict women — its newest will honor Maya Angelou

Jules Arthur
  • San Francisco board has issued a new ordinance that'll ensure 30 percent of all public art portrays female historical figures.
  • Maya Angelou has been chosen as the first historical figure to be recognized.
  • The sculpture concept has come down to three finalists — its completion date is slated for winter of 2020.

Maya Angelou will be commemorated in a new permanent art installation in San Francisco. Poet and novelist, Angelou had a storied relationship with the city. She attended the George Washington High School, and was said to have been one of San Francisco's first African American female streetcar conductors.

The announcement follows an outcry from the community asking for better representation of women in sculptures. In 2018, San Francisco's board of supervisors passed a city ordinance calling for representation of historical women to reach at least 30 percent. After a year of legislation, the ordinance finally went through. As of today, only two of the 87 public statues depict women. Those being, a sculpture of Florence Nightingale and a bust of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–CA).

Maya Angelou was chosen because of her life's celebrated and influential career.

The San Francisco Arts commission remarks, "The artwork is intended to honor one of the most significant literary artists and activists of our time, and will be an ever-present role model and inspiration to girls and young women."

Maya Angelou’s sculpture

The city's Art Commission sent out a call for art applications in November of 2018. They received more than 100 qualified submissions. After whittling those down to the best 13 artists, they eventually chose three finalists. The statue will be installed by December 31, 2020 with an estimated cost of around $400,000. The city will supply the majority of the funding with the help of some private donors.

The three proposals come from the following artists: Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, Jules Arthur, and Lava Thomas. All of which, are strikingly beautiful and well designed.

Kenyatta C. Hinkle’s proposal, “The 3 Mayas”

Kenyatta C. Hinkle, an American artist and assistant professor of painting at UC Berkeley proposed "The 3 Mayas," which is a seven foot tall and three sided. It'll consist of three versions of Maya in different stages of her life. The first, as a little girl holding a book, a teenager in a streetcar uniform, and finally a middle age woman holding her most famous book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Speaking with the San Francisco Chronicle, Hinkle referenced a speech by the author's son, Guy Johnson. "He said that his mother would not stand for any injustice being carried out in her presence — she would never turn her back to injustice." You will never see the back of this monument. You will always have a version of Maya looking at you."

Jules Arthur’s proposal, “The Gift of Literature”

Jules Arthur, an artist from New York City, proposed "The Gift of Literature," as a granite wall with a quote from Angelou regarding the importance of reading.

When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature, If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young. – Maya Angelou

The statue will feature Angelou on one side as a young girl standing with one leg atop a birdcage and stack of books. The other side of the granite will have the older Angelou, looking at the reflection of her younger self. Arthur calls this a work of "metamorphosis."

Lava Thomas’s proposal, “Portrait of a Phenomenal Woman”

Lava Thomas's design is a towering nine-foot sculpture that is shaped like a book, with a portrait on Agelou's face on the front.

Regarding the sculpture, the artist stated, "I want my monument to… convey Dr. Angelou's towering achievements her intelligence, her wisdom, and to emphasize her insistence on our shared humanity."

This iteration of Angelou artwork also includes a quote by the author: "If one has courage, nothing can dim the light which shines from within."

Proposals of San Francisco’s newest sculpture

The artists' designs have been on display at the San Francisco Library, so that the public could provide feedback. The finalist will meet with the Visual Arts Committee on August 21 and then be approved on September 9th.

The Arts commission intends on releasing more plans for future female public art after getting further input.

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