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.