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Fall 2000
The Writing on the Wall
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SPARC, a nonprofit community-education and arts organization, was cofounded by Baca in 1976 before she became one of the few tenured Chicana professors of visual arts in the nine-campus University of California system. Through SPARC, students create digital murals using Baca's approach of delving deeply into a project through intensive research before generating a single image.

"I learned that art is not about the final result; it's the process that counts," says UCLA senior Jennifer Araujo. "Rather than just making art and imposing it on the community, it's about including the community in what is to be created."

In six digital murals created for the California Plaza amphitheater titled Witnesses to the History of Los Angeles, students tell the personal histories of people of color - a Filipino farmworker; a former slave who became a beloved community worker; a "cholo" in sunglasses.

Six other student murals hang in the community center of Estrada Courts, one of the oldest housing projects in East Los Angeles. Baca and 15 students worked with residents to create the artworks. "The students literally adopted these families. They ate Sunday dinners with them. They listened to their stories," says Baca.

The images that emerged from Estrada Courts are poignant symbols of the people's lives: A photo of a young girl, seen against the backdrop of a bullet-shattered window, dominates one work, while around that stark frame are arrayed images of smiling families and children at play, symbolizing hope for a more peaceful future.

The latest student work ties directly into the rich history of mural-making in Los Angeles, specifically a piece by the late Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, América Tropical. In 1932, Siqueiros, whose work is considered on a par with that of Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, was commissioned to memorialize tropical America on an Olvera Street building. Civic leaders envisioned a scene of lush jungle beauty, Mayan temples and happy natives. While those elements emerged as the work progressed, the finished mural - completed by Siqueiros the night before its unveiling after he sent everyone else home - offered a much harsher interpretation: a crucified Mexican Indian with an eagle perched vulture-like above. Siqueiros would say later that he never intended to portray "a continent of happy men, surrounded by palms and parrots, where the fruit voluntarily detached itself to fall into the mouths of the happy mortals." América Tropical was almost immediately ordered whitewashed.

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