Professor Judy Baca’s “Beyond the Mexican Mural” includes collaborative project with sixth grade class
By Samantha Schaefer
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
To Alba Chacon, murals are a way to send a unifying message to a
community in need, but as a public health student with no artistic
experience, she said she felt nervous about contributing to one.
However, Chacon, a UCLA student working on her master’s in public
health and Latin American studies, said the technology used to create
murals in the César Chávez Digital/Mural Lab, located in Venice, levels
the playing field between artists and those who simply have ideas and
Chacon and five other students in Professor Judy Baca’s “Beyond the
Mexican Mural” course are currently working on a mural for University
Elementary School, located on campus. The sixth grade class requested
that Baca and her students collaborate with them to create a mural as
its graduation present to the school, Baca said.
Baca, a longtime artist and activist, said her class allows her to work with communities that can’t afford to commission her.
Much of Baca’s curriculum is focused on muralist theory derived from
David Siqueiros, Diego Rivera and José Orozco, said Ava Porter, the
Social and Public Art Resource Center communications representative and
The UCLA alumna and former student of Baca said the three muralists
are widely known as “Los Tres Grandes,” the three great Mexican
muralists of the 20th century.
Baca said she studied in Mexico under Siqueiros prior to creating the mural programs in Los Angeles.
“It’s really exciting that our school is going to have a mural that
is part of this tradition of muralism that goes back to these three
great artists in Mexico,” said Scott Smith, a sixth-grade social
studies and visual arts teacher at the elementary school.
The theme of the mural, submitted by the sixth graders, is “We are
one, we are many.” The mural features a history of dance, from a
painted circle of indigenous dancers to an energetic James Brown.
Painted photos of the elementary school students from the hip-hop
class that inspired Baca’s students were also incorporated into the
The mural illustrates the UCLA students’ vision of how all humans
are interconnected, represented with ciphers, the Earth and Pangea, a
unified continent, as well as DNA emerging from a fire surrounded by
“It’s set in space to give it a fantasy, whimsical thing and to
represent the macrocosm and how we all come together in the large
scale,” said Bree Hemingway, a fourth-year history student.
“The smoke coming out of the fire is actually DNA, which shows how
we come together on a smaller scale. We’re all from the same stuff.”
After Baca’s students visited the elementary school, they came up
with their own ideas for the piece and then decided which ideas they
liked best, she added.
“It’s a beautiful thing because it came from the children and came
from everyone’s interpretation of that one theme,” said Shonowa
Villalobos, fifth-year sociology student enrolled in the class.
The Digital/Mural Lab, created in 1996 and sponsored by SPARC,
contains computers on mobile drafting tables and large printers that
enable artists to print full-size murals.
“I haven’t taken a lot of art classes at UCLA, and so I felt like
this is a way I could get involved where I didn’t feel intimidated
because I hadn’t been doing art,” Hemingway said. “(The technology)
brought my strengths to the table and didn’t exclude me because I
didn’t have the artistic skills.”
Once drafted, the mural was printed to a half size for the UCLA
students to paint and then was scanned back into a computer and blown
up to full size for the sixth graders to finish painting.
The advantage to this technology, Baca said, is that murals can be
easily maintained, replaced and archived. She added that they are still
creating hand-crafted works in the lab by physically painting the
murals, which differentiates the works from billboards.
In addition to the mural, Baca’s students are creating a report on
the condition of all the murals throughout Los Angeles to submit to
legislators in hopes of receiving funding for the restoration and
preservation of those murals.
Baca said there has not been funding for mural programs for many
years, so the murals created by SPARC and other programs are not being
SPARC focuses on at-risk community. Villalobos said she feels public
works are most important to at-risk communities, especially when there
is territorial violence.
“This is stuff that people kill over, for this little piece of land
that isn’t really theirs. So to have that sense of pride instilled in
this way, it does make a difference,” Villalobos said.
After working with Baca, Chacon said she hopes to use murals to get
messages about public health out to at-risk communities in a meaningful
and permanent way.
“The arts seems to be really unifying,” Chacon said. “It can
actually get a really controversial message across in a way that is so