Americas foremost muralist, Judith Baca has carried on the great Mexican tradition of mural painting in the United States, and she has extended her work to a worldwide audience.Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, Judith Francisca Baca did not know her father.
She was raised by her grandmother while her mother worked in a tire factory. When Baca was six, her mother married and moved her to the city of Pacoima. Baca was lonely in her new school because she did not speak English well, so she turned to art.
After high school, Baca earned her bachelors degree and master’s degree in art from California State University, Northridge. She took a job as an art teacher at her alma mater, Bishop Alemany High School, in 1969. While teaching at the Catholic school, Baca and several other teachers and nuns were fired for their protests against the Vietnam War, in an incident known as the “Alemany Eighteen.”
Baca took a job with the City of Los Angeles’s Cultural Affairs Division, and she formed a group, Las Vistas Nuevas, that consisted of several young people from local gangs. Remarkably, she inspired the troubled youths to cooperate, and they helped her paint her first mural in Hollenbeck Park.
In the mid-1970’s, Baca traveled to Mexico to study the tradition of Mexican mural painting. She enrolled in classes at the studio of David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of Los Tres Grandes (the Three Greats), which also included Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco. She studied their techniques and returned to the United States to carry on the tradition.
Back in Los Angeles, Baca expanded her program, supervising the painting of more than 250 murals. Then, she embarked on a project known as the “Great Wall.” The remarkable mural, which stretches along a drainage canal for .5 miles (.8 km), traces the multi-ethnic history of Los Angeles from prehistoric times to the 1950s.
In 1976, Baca formed the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in Venice, California. The nonprofit art center works to preserve murals and other public art. In 1987, Baca launched an even bigger proj¬ ect. “World Wall: A Vision of the Future Without Fear” is a huge, multi-panel display, painted by Baca and other international artists.
The first four panels of the project were unveiled in Finland in June 1990. Then, it traveled to Gorky Park in the Soviet Union. Baca envisioned the portable mural as “a world-wide collaborative” that focuses on war, peace, and international cooperation. Baca later became a full professor of art at the University of California at Irvine.