Judith F. Baca’s The Great Wall: Experiments in Collaboration and Concrete
By Kathy Zimmerer
Through December 16th
The heroine of the mural movement in Los Angeles during the seventies and eighties was Judy Baca, whose Great Wall of Los Angeles was a triumph of art and community, as she created and researched the complex overall design and composition, orchestrated funding, founded SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center), coordinated over 400 young people from diverse social and economic backgrounds as mural-makers, and generally contributed to the city’s reputation as a vibrant center for murals. Sponsored by the Getty’s initiative, Pacific Standard Time/LA/LA, this exhibit, The Great Wall of Los Angeles: Judith F. Baca’s Experimentations in Collaboration and Concrete, focuses on her drawings, research material and ephemera related to Baca’s plans to expand the Great Wall into the 1960s and 1970s. Also on view are two rarely seen murals, Uprising of the Mujeres (1979) and Balance (1990); both with evocative themes aligned with her constant search for social justice.
As an alternative to traditional California History, the Great Wall of Los Angeles mural is 2,754 feet and runs in time from 1848 to the 1950’s. It contains such marvelous stylized imagery as Rosie the Riveter being swallowed up by a 1950’s T.V. screen, as all the women who worked during the war in the factories became homemakers. Farewell to Rosie the Riveter has visual punch as “Rosie” tries to pull back from the TV while her wrench flies through the air, the entire composition is in blue, tan and pink, as the stucco houses of suburbia swallow her up. An earlier image emphasizes the film industry with Charlie Chaplin in WWI fatigues linked to Thomas Alva Edison, who invented the light bulb, but also the moving picture camera. Baca’s research showed that Edison may have been born in Mexico, and she shows the Chichimeca corn goddess emerging from a Pre-Columbian pyramid whispering in his ear about ancient thinkers and inventions. With a sweeping use of light and dark the scene comes alive, as Edison holds up a strip of film and the silhouette of the city is shown in the background.
In her huge mural, Balance (10 x 30’), Baca coalesces civilizations including Hopi myths and Asian yin and yang to show a human being born from a stretched umbilical cord. Her stylized rendering of images shows an earth with brilliant sapphire water and fields of luscious fruits and vegetables while two serpentine hands assist in the birth as if the earth is a giant womb. Her other rarely shown mural, Uprising of the Mujeres, is an incredible stylistic evocation of the Mexican muralists mixed in with her powerful symbolic figures. As a participant in the El Taller Siqueiros in 1979 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, which was a workshop for training future muralists founded by the famous muralist Mexican David Alfaro Siqueiros, she was the only female participant. In defiance of the male participant’s suggested subjects of women as the conduit of consumerism, Baca created an indigenous woman who pushes back with powerful hands military spending, and other repressive actions by men. Her woman leads the rest of the women to a better world. Her monumental leading figure is entirely Baca’s own; with the figure’s zigzag braids and muscular anatomy she has a scale and authority that enhances her rebellion. The colors tell the story; Baca uses cool blues and grays for the men’s industrial oppression and warm oranges, yellows for the women’s fight for a better life.
The epic scale of the Great Wall of Los Angeles and the huge amount of labor Baca put into its creation made her an internationally recognized muralist and deeply enriched the visual landscape of Los Angeles. Always looking ahead and pushing the envelope, she continues to plan for an expansion of the mural into the 1960’s and 1970’s with her twin goals of community involvement and social justice at the forefront.