LOS ANGELES — On September 13, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) granted official approval for the installation of two identical bronze sculptures by Glenn Kaino on either end of the new 6th Street bridge, which opened in July 2022. Each 14-foot sculpture will depict two hands with their fingers forming an interlocking “LA,” a symbol popularized by Estevan Oriol’s 1995 photograph “L.A. Fingers,” in which a Latina woman’s hands form the gesture. The sculptures will be located in yet-to-be-constructed parks located at the Western end of the bridge in the Arts District and in the Eastern end in Boyle Heights.
Kaino first received the commission in 2013, proposing a single sculpture as a symbol of connection between communities on both sides of the LA river. An early conception of the project involved one hand from each side of the river, composites made from casts of the hands of hundreds of residents.
Kaino himself has links to both sides of the river, with family roots on the East side and artistic roots on the West. “For many generations my family has lived a few miles from the bridge and I have a long personal history with it,” he told Hyperallergic. In 1997, he co-founded the artist-run space Deep River on Traction Avenue in the Arts District.
Although Kaino had originally wanted the sculpture located on the East side, a suitable site could not be found, so it was initially planned for the Arts District park, according to a 2019 LA Curbed article. When this was announced at a public meeting in 2019, it was met with frustration from Boyle Heights community members. Speakers expressed disappointment that the single sculpture would be located in the Arts District, despite it being more symbolically linked to the predominantly Latinx communities of the East Side. “They were very insistent that there needs to be equity on both sides,” Kaino says. “I was in full support of that.”
After the public outcry, the DCA made the decision to revise the project to feature two identical sculptures on each side of the bridge, according to a DCA representative. The budget for the project is $1.86 million, covered by the city’s Percent for Public Art program, which requires private developers to set aside one percent of their project’s valuation for public art.
Kaino had also received some criticism for not acknowledging Oriol’s photo as the source of his sculpture. Although Oriol did not create the hand gesture, his iconic 1995 photo is widely credited as having made it famous. The photographer has been documenting elements of lowrider, “Cholo,” hip-hop, graffiti, and tattoo cultures for the past three decades.
Kaino denies that he was trying to erase Oriol’s involvement with the image. “Obviously Estevan Oriol made that image famous,” he said at an October 2021 DCA meeting. “He’s a very important artist. He’s an icon, a veteran.”
At the meeting, Commissioner Evonne Gallardo asked about the legality of using the gesture. Oriol did in fact sue H&M and Brandy Melville in 2013 for producing shirts with an image of a similar hand gesture, but lost the case, as a judge ruled the images had significant differences.
Regardless of legality, Kaino said he would not move forward without Oriol’s approval. Fortunately, he was able to connect with the photographer shortly after the meeting, and the pair had several talks at Kaino’s studio. “We evolved the sculptures to be my hand and his hand,” Kaino says, “someone from the East side of the river, and someone from the West,” as Oriol was born in Santa Monica. (Oriol did not respond to Hyperallergic’s requests for comment.)
In addition to his participation in the sculpture itself, there will now be a plaque installed next to the sculptures attributing them to “Glenn Kaino featuring Estevan Oriol,” acknowledging his “L.A. Hands” photograph for popularizing the gesture, and commemorating his collaboration with Kaino. The plaque states that Oriol’s “artworks have transcended the locality of their creation to become universal symbols of pride, courage and humanity and a vital part of the Los Angeles landscape.”