Writing on the Wall
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Baca's large-scale murals have illuminated the history and stories
of Los Angeles' diverse communities. Today, her students are learning
to carry on the tradition.
By Cynthia Lee
by Students of the UCLA César Chávez Digital Mural Lab
decades, muralist Judith Francisca Baca has painted the untold stories
and overlooked histories of the city's ethnic minorities on buildings,
outdoor walls and in public places all over Los Angeles. A visual
artist with an international reputation, she has altered the outward
face of L.A., especially in communities that can now look up to
see their own heroes and achievements heralded in bold images.
beyond visual art, Baca utilizes the mural-making process to span
a racial and cultural divide. As a 27-year-old community outreach
worker, she first tapped into the team-building power of art in
1973 when she discovered that rival gang members were willing to
call a truce to help her create a mural in a city park. Later, as
founder of the first City of Los Angeles mural program, Baca saw
more than 400 murals produced citywide by 2,000-plus participants
in 10 years.
then, she has engaged thousands more - the young and old, historical
and ethnic scholars, immigrants and pioneers, residents of the barrios
and affluent enclaves alike - in the planning, design and creation
of public murals.
Great Wall of Los Angeles, completed in 1984 along a portion of
the Tujunga Wash flood-control channel in Studio City, still stands
as a golden example of this collaborative process: The half-mile-long
mural, the longest in the world, celebrates the contributions of
ethnic minorities to the history of California and America. The
work took Baca and a team of 700 residents 12 years to complete.
Baca heads up a much different enterprise at the helm of the UCLA
César Chávez Digital Mural Lab at the Social and Public Art Resource
Center (SPARC). In a former garage where police squad cars were
once repaired, students are enrolled in a groundbreaking workshop/class
called "Beyond the Mexican Mural - Muralism and Community Development,"
creating art with and for Angelenos. But instead of paper, pencil,
paints and airbrushes, students - many of whom have never picked
up a drawing pad - use high-speed computers, scanners, electronic
tablets, digital cameras and a host of software programs to create
large-scale images that blend together elements of real and virtual
are working on the cutting edge of this field, utilizing absolutely
new approaches to muralism," says Baca, a professor in the César
Chávez Center for Interdisciplinary Instruction in Chicana and Chicano
Studies and soon to also be on faculty in the Department of World
Arts and Cultures.