More Than a Month

Art by Lava Thomas Portrait Study #25 for Maya Angelou

More Than a Month, SFPL’s celebration of Black history and futures, is focused on the theme of resistance this year. Beginning on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday weekend, during Black History Month and throughout the year, the Library champions Black leaders and change makers in San Francisco and beyond.

About the art

The artwork for this year’s More than a Month celebration is an image of Dr. Maya Angelou, drawn by Bay Area artist Lava Thomas. It is a study for the Angelou memorial, commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission, which will be installed near the Larkin Street entrance of the Main Library in 2023.

About the artist

Lava Thomas tackles issues of race, gender, representation and memorialization through a multidisciplinary practice that spans drawing, painting, photography, sculpture and site-specific installations. Drawing from her family’s Southern roots, current and historical socio-political events, intersectional feminism and African American protest and devotional traditions, Thomas’s practice centers ideas that amplify visibility, healing and empowerment in the face of erasure, trauma and oppression. 


How does the idea of resistance fit into your work as an artist?

My work challenges dominant historical narratives by honoring everyday women who have been the real change-makers of history, but whose contributions have largely been omitted from history books. Representing women who have worked, fought, struggled and labored to make this country and world more equitable is at the core of my work as an artist.

What did you learn about resistance in your research on Maya Angelou for the sculpture? How did this influence the work?

While Dr. Angelou is widely known as a poet and writer, she was also an expert organizer and was deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement. She raised funds for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She organized against colonial violence in Africa while living in Ghana and worked with Malcom X to fight for Black freedom internationally.

So, it was important when designing the monument that it be rooted in Black aesthetics. Rather than create a statue in the tradition of European figuration, I chose to represent Dr. Angelou in the form of a bronze book with her portrait on the cover. The book form references Dr. Angelou's life in letters and underscores the historic significance of reading, writing and education for Black people as a means toward liberation. Enslaved people risked their lives to become literate in a quest to obtain the tools they needed to become free people.

Does resistance have a place in art?

Artists have always created work that responds to the world in which they live, offering powerful critiques of war, poverty, racism and sexism. For artists from marginalized groups—artists of color, LGBTQ artists and Black artists in particular—the act of representing ourselves and our communities is a form of resistance. Our work resists historical stereotypes and degrading depictions of who we are and offers a space for us to see and celebrate ourselves in the fullness of our humanity, on our own terms.

SFPL Recommends

Our librarians have curated must-read titles in honor of More Than a Month. A note from a member of our curation team: “While our history may have moments of darkness, Black love, to this Black Librarian, is always the deepest show of our resistance against the world that wants us to hate ourselves, our beauty, and our strength. Black love is power.”