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Sculpture honoring Maya Angelou coming to SF

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Part of the SF Arts Commission’s plan to address the city’s statue gender imbalance

Poet and activist Maya Angelou addresses
Maya Angelou addresses the Democratic National Convention in 2004.
Photo by Hector MataAFP/Getty Images

Out of roughly 90 statues in San Francisco, only two depict real-life women: A bust of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, which glares from outside her former office at City Hall, and a statue of Florence Nightingale, found outside Laguna Honda Hospital.

What’s more, the majority of statues in the city are of white men. Now the SF Arts Commission hopes to start rectifying the imbalance with a statue or sculpture of Maya Angelou, the scribe and civil rights activist who died in 2014.

“While most of the sculptures in the City’s collection that honor individuals recognize white men, the sculpture of Dr. Maya Angelou will redress this gender imbalance by not only honoring a woman, but a woman of color,” says the SF Arts Commission.

Angelou has strong ties to the city, among them being the first black female cable car conductor in San Francisco, which she accomplished at the age of 16.

Three artists were selected as finalists by a Public Art Selection Panel to create the sculpture. Jules Arthur, Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle, and Lava Thomas will compete to have their tribute to the poet grace the sidewalk outside of the Main Library in Civic Center.

Arthur’s proposal is of the classic bronze state variety, which would pair with a granite wall featuring a quote from Angelou, “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.”

Hinkle’s work, a mosaic tiled tribute conceived as a pillar or column (the artist wanted their piece to not subscribe to typical Western ideologies of architecture), depicts three versions of Angelou throughout her lifetime.

And Thomas’s proposal, which looks like an enlarge plaque, has Angelou’s face embossed on a massive bronze book with one of her quotes, “If one has courage, nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”

The proposals will be on view for public feedback until July 31 at Main Library. On August 9, the selection panel will meet to pick a finalist. The finalist will be presented to the Visual Arts Committee on August 21 and the full Arts Commission will then approve its recommendation on September 9.

The statue will tentatively be installed by December 31, 2020. As the San Francisco Chronicle’s Heather Knight expertly points out, “Yes, from start to finish, installing one statue will have taken 3½ years—almost as long as the four years it took to build the Golden Gate Bridge. Could our city government move any slower? I think not.”

Check out the proposals below.

Jules Arthur’s “The Gift of Literature.”
Renderings courtesy of the SF Arts Commission
Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle’s “The 3 Maya(s)”
Lava Thomas’s “Portrait of a Phenomenal Woman.”