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Art HERstory: Judy Baca

As a trained muralist, I’ve always been drawn to the remarkable work of Judy Baca. She is one of America’s leading muralists and her personal philosophy is a powerful one.

Ms. Baca believes that “art is a tool for social change and self-transformation, capable of fostering civic dialogue in the most uncivil places.”

Read on…

Above: The artist photograph by Celia Alvarez Muñoz, taken at the Social and Public Art Resource Center in Venice, CA.

Raised in a strong, all-female household, Baca was especially influenced by the values of her grandmother, a Mexican herbal healer. She received her undergraduate degree from California State University, Northridge in 1969.

Above: Drawing of a panel mural “The Founders of Guadalupe, CA” commissioned in 1989 and completed in 1990.

Few artists openly supported the Civil Rights Movement in their work. Baca, who understood that space was power, sought monumental coverage. She studied mural making techniques in Mexico and began seeking ways to use public art to serve her community and validate her personal history as a Chicana. In 1974, Baca founded the City of Los Angeles’ first mural program, and in 1976, along with filmmaker Donna Dietch and artist Christina Schlesinger, Baca founded the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), which promotes community-based, participatory public arts projects.

Baca began work on SPARC’s first mural, The Great Wall of Los Angeles, before attaining her masters of art degree from CSUN in 1979.

Baca’s The Great Wall engaged hundreds of culturally and economically diverse 14-21 year olds, including gang members, as well as scholars, oral historians, artists, and community members. Baca calls the depiction of America and California’s ethnic history “the largest monument to interracial harmony in America.?

“Division of the Barrios and Chavez Ravine,” segment of the Great Wall of Los Angeles,1983.

“I want to use public space to create a public voice for, and a public consciousness about people who are, in fact, the majority of the population but who are not represented in any visual way.”

Above: “Triumph of the Heart” from the “World Wall” mural and below is a beautiful detail.

Below: The Durango, Colorado project, 2001.

The next two are pieces from Ms. Baca’s early non-mural work:

Judy as Pachuca, 1976

…and below is my favorite of Baca’s pieces along with a write up from the Smithsonian:

Las Tres Marias (The Three Marias), 1976, in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In this provocative reinterpretation of the three Marys of the Crucifixion, Baca explores personal and cultural identity. At the left a young Chicana gazes out at the viewer. At the right is a portrait of Baca herself, dressed as one of the 1940s pachucas who challenged social pressure to assimilate into mainstream culture. In this feminist statement Baca presents Chicanas as women of strength and will. The reflection in the mirror invites viewers to consider where they themselves fit in terms of ethnicity, gender, religion, and culture.

In 1980, Judy Baca began teaching at the University of California Irvine, where she worked for many years. In 1996, Baca became a professor at UCLA.

Today, Baca continues to head the Digital Mural Lab at UCLA’s Cesar Chavez Center. Digital works printed commercially at high resolution on a variety of materials are quicker and cheaper to produce and repair than their traditional counterparts. She commends the power of digital imaging to allow her to bring the historical record of her twenty-five foot hand-painted mural back into contemporary mural making.

You can see a YouTube video of Judy teaching “The Great Wall of Los Angeles Class – 2007” here.

I end today with an inspiring quote by Judy Baca…take it in:

“Break the mold! Have the biggest vision you can! If you can’t dream it, it cannot occur.?

More info on Judy Baca at judybaca.com, sparcmurals.org and artscenecal.com

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