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Fall 2000
The Writing on the Wall
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As his only surviving public mural, América Tropical is hidden behind a protective curtain and fiberglass cover. Conservators have removed the whitewash and cleaned and stabilized the mural, and a campaign will launch in October to raise $3.7 million to build a shelter, interpretive center and viewing platform from which the public can see this once-censored work.

As visitors make their way to the Siqueiros mural center, they also will see in the access way a contemporary mural that places Siqueiros in the context of the social tumult of his time. Using 3-D software to "explode" an image of América Tropical, Baca and her students show the muralist through the jagged outline of his crucified peasant, suspended in space over the Los Angeles River. In Los Angeles Tropical, the far-off landscape below shows fragments of historic scenes of desolation and poverty: breadlines, sweatshops, forced deportations, the Dust Bowl migration.

"When people see this piece, they will understand what was happening at the time he painted it - a vision of Los Angeles at the turn of the century," says Ramón De La Rosa '00, who worked on the project. Two more student works, including The Corn Goddess, will eventually be installed in the entrance way when it opens in 2002.

"Being in this class was the most unique learning experience I have ever had," says De La Rosa. "What we learned went beyond art; we learned to work together creatively. I've never had an experience like that, and I don't think I ever will again."

Baca's determination that her students' work be about more than just the creation of art is evident.

"They must research widely, but they also must have dreams and visions of their own and not just spout back rote information," she says. "They are creating sites of public memory. They must ask themselves, 'What should we remember? Whose story should we tell, and why?' "


Cynthia Lee is an associate editor of UCLA Magazine.


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