By Mike Sonksen
“This is art that is coming to the people,” declared California state senator Maria Elena Durazo minutes after Judy Baca’s new nearly 78-foot mural was unveiled on April 1, 2022, at UCLA in honor of the school’s 2019 centennial.
Permanently installed on the Wescom Student Terrace, on the first level of the Ackerman Union, La Memoria de la Tierra: UCLA (The memory of Earth: UCLA) consists of three panels that capture the past, present, and future of UCLA and celebrate the institution’s legacy while offering a vision of UCLA spreading knowledge and compassion into the world. Baca’s long career as an artist, an activist, and a professor has been devoted to cataloging public memory and empowering the next generation, using murals as a teaching tool.
The focal point is the central panel featuring three women: professor and Black Panther Angela Davis, civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, and Tongva shaman Toypurina, who led an uprising against the Spanish at the San Gabriel Mission in 1785.
Forming a large oval behind Davis, Huerta, and Toypurina are over 70 UCLA changemakers from the past century—Tom Bradley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Jackie Joyner Kersee, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, George Takei, Juan Felipe Herrera—along with icons who participated in campus protests, like Martin Luther King Jr., Maria Elena Durazo, and John Lewis. These dignitaries are shown rallying as if at a protest. Nine social actions are depicted, including the 2020 Black Lives Matter student protests, the 1993 UCLA hunger strikes, and rallies against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Many of my heroes are in this piece,” Baca said at the unveiling. “These are the people who showed me how to conduct my life.”