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JUDITH BACA

by Diane Calder

(SPARC, Venice) An irate writer of a letter to the editors of the Los Angeles Times once lashed out in an angry tirade, accusing The Getty Trust of leftist leanings (and worse) for its role in the restoration of the David Alfaro Siquieros mural, Tropical America, on Olvera Street. Siqueiros hailed "the monumental expression of art, because such art is public property." The artist understood the potential power that springs from the root word of monument, monere, which means to remind, to cause to think.

The work of Mexican muralists had largely been brushed aside by formalists who dominated the art world when Judith Francisca Baca received her undergraduate degree from California State University, Northridge in 1969. Few artists openly supported the Civil Rights Movement in their work, but individuals like Sister Mary Corita Kent were beginning to speak out. "I admire people who march. I admire people who go to jail. I don't have the guts to do that. So I do what I can," the nun confessed [Sister Corita is currently the subject of an exhibition at the UCLA Hammer Museum--Ed].
Sister Corita learned serigraphy and relied on printmaking as the vehicle for the wide distribution of her populist Christian messages. Baca, who understood that space was power, sought more 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. Along with filmmaker Donna Dietch and artist Christina Schlesinger, Judy Baca founded the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC). She began work on SPARC's first mural, The Great Wall, before attaining her masters of art degree from CSUN in 1979.


“Pancho Trinity,” 1 of 3, acrylic/
mixed media over styrofoam,
36 x 26 x 18”, 1993.









"La Memoria de Nuestra Tierra: California",
mural at USC. The drawing for
this mural will be on exhibit.

 

"Las Lupes de Guadlupe", from
the Lupe Series, pastel, 1990.









Drawing for panel mural "The
Founders of Guadalupe, CA", 1990.
SPARC's dedication to producing, presenting and preserving public artworks, its program to examine what is chosen to be publicly memorialized and to provide vehicles for the betterment of community through a participatory process was tested with Baca's half-mile-long mural. The realities of organizing, educating, funding, and laboring through five sweltering summers in the Tujunga Wash Flood Control Channel with gangs of at-risk kids must have challenged even Baca's resolve to affect social change through art. The project empowered 400 young people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds to collaborate with over 50 artists, ethnologists and scholars to create a pictorial representation of the history of diverse ethnic peoples in California from prehistoric times to the 1950's.

Although the foundations of Baca's fame were laid in the trenches of the San Fernando Valley, she has moved on to apply her organizational and coalition building skills to the creation, preservation and documentation of public art and educational projects worldwide. At a time when minorities in the film and TV industries are still struggling to make room for a wider range of images and voices, Baca's achievements seem especially remarkable.

Arte Intimo: Paintings and Drawings by Judy Baca is a solo show of original works that reference Baca's monumental production over the last thirty years. Along with preliminary drawings for murals including The Great Wall and The Founders of Guadalupe, some of Baca's personal journals are on view, spread open to pages of special significance. The artist's sense of irony is most evident in a group of mixed media and paint on styrofoam figures from her 1993 Pancho Trinity series that accost stereotyping and issues such as funding for Chicano arts.

Baca's early search for what she has called "the perfect Chicano" still invests her figures with an idealism that can verge on religious fervor, sanctifying injustices suffered and sacrifices made by the proud, hard working people she often portrays. Her debt to the Mexican muralists is evident in her dramatic use of movement, staging, color and light. Readability and narrative power become increasingly important as she addresses larger audiences through works like the World Wall, the Denver airport mural and the virtual reality of internet sites (see http://www.sparcmurals.org).

The featured work in this show is a twenty-five foot hand-painted landscape onto which archival images were integrated through digital technology. Digital works printed commercially at high resolution on a variety of materials are quicker and cheaper to produce and repair than their traditional counterparts. Baca, who heads the Digital Mural Lab at UCLA’s Cesar Chavez Center, commends the power of digital imaging to allow her to bring the historical record back into contemporary mural making.