Judy Baca's Boots

Mexican American artist Judy Baca used these paint-splattered boots when she was painting a series of monumental murals retelling the history of California. Baca, who is an emeritus professor of Chicano Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, came of age during an era of Mexican American civil rights activism know as Chicano Movement. For her and her fellow activists, public art is a tool for empowering communities. She is part of a wider tradition of Latina and Latino artists who have used art to express their historical perspectives, involve community members as artistic co-creators, and advocate for social change.

Baca’s artworks represent the stories not just of Mexican Americans, but all the people who have contributed to U.S. history but have been disenfranchised from it, including African and Asian Americans, Indigenous peoples, and others. She is deeply interested in creating equitable public spaces that honor community memories and uplift neighbors. Her best-known work is the Great Wall of Los Angeles, located in San Fernando Valley. The mural depicts the complex history of marginalized people in California from prehistoric times through the 20th century. This mural spans half a mile and still is a work in progress. Baca’s murals have employed more than 400 youth and their families from diverse social and economic backgrounds. Many of the stories featured in her mural unfold within the California landscape. She says, “I am beginning to believe I am a political landscape painter. I have always known the value of art as a tool for transformation both personal and political. What I have had to learn…is that I choose often to use land as my method of recording memories and stories in my paintings and murals.”

Baca’s life and work reflects the nation-shaping impact of Latinas and Latinos. In places like California with its Mexican history and multi-cultural present, diverse Latina and Latino artists, performers, and athletes have broken new ground and created national legacies. This includes the graphic art of Chicano civil rights movement leader and artist Ester Hernández, the alternative comic book artists the Hernandez Brothers, and the street skater and artist Mark “Gonz” Gonzales, whose stories are all on view in this exhibition.

Judy Baca: Public Artist

Judy Baca envisions community murals as public spaces for retelling history and including everybody’s stories. In 1976, she founded the Social and Public Art Resources Center (SPARC). SPARC’s first project involved young people as co-creators of one of the largest murals in the United States—The Great Wall of Los Angeles.

Comic Book, Love and Rockets #1

The Mexican American Hernández Brothers’ series “Love and Rockets” had a cult following within the alternative comics movement of the 1980s. Raised in Oxnard, California, they created contemporary storylines and eclectic characters that defied Latino stereotypes.
Mexican American athlete Mark “Gonz” Gonzales pioneered the street style of skateboarding in California during the early 1980s. A native of South Gate in Los Angeles County, he is also a poet and visual artist, known widely for his skateboard design collaborations.
Sun Raid
Mexican American artist Ester Hernández is the daughter of California farmworkers. Sun Mad, the first version of this poster from 1981, critiqued the use of pesticides by grape growers. In 2008 she redesigned it as Sun Raid to critique the federal immigration raids that resulted in the deportation of farmworkers. You can view the original Sun Mad version at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Judy Baca's Boots in 3D