Judy Baca’s inspiring work has challenged others to create social change with her many murals, paintings, and sculptures. Born on September 20, 1946 in Los Angeles, California, this second-generation, Chicana woman has been inspired by her heritage and upbringing in a matriarchal family to create these works of art that aim to inspire others to create social change in their community. As a child, Baca was learned a lot from her female-dominated household, which included her mother, grandmother, and two aunts (Biersteker 1). For a good part of her childhood, Baca's grandmother raised her, while her mother worked to support the family. Her father was never a part of her life, as she never met him. When her mother remarried, she moved to a different part of L.A. and was forced to enter a school where the primary language was English. Coming from a Spanish-speaking household and having to deal with the adjustment of the new language caused her to struggle in school. It was because of this struggle with language that Baca began to be interested in art. Because of her language problems, “Baca's teacher permitted the her to sit at a corner desk and paint, while the other students continued with their studies” (Judith F. Baca 1).
After receiving a degree from the California State University at Northridge, Baca began her career as a teacher at the high school level. “Soon after she began teaching, Baca enticed a number of ethnically diverse students to paint a mural at the school, thus anticipating the ways in which she would eventually interconnect art and social action” (Judith F. Baca 1). This first teaching job did not last long, however. In an article about her biography from biography.org, they had this to say about her early career:
“Shortly after beginning her new job, Baca became involved in public protests against the Vietnam War. An administrative change at Alemany High School was less tolerant of these protests, and eventually Baca was fired, as were ten nuns and seven other lay teachers. Baca had thought that she would be unable to earn a living as an artist, and so she had gone into education to provide a means of support for herself and her art. Although initially the loss of her job was traumatic, in a sense, the loss of this first position opened new doors for Baca. Rather than rely on teaching as a career, she began to focus on her art.”
Through her fascination with art that began, she has used her teaching abilities alongside artistic abilities. As described on her website, Baca’s most well known work is “The Great Wall of Los Angeles”, which is located in the Tujunga Wash drainage canal in the San Fernando Valley. She worked alongside community members to create this mural. It depicts the various ethic histories of California, ranging from prehistoric times to the present. This project began in the late 1970’s; it is the longest mural in the world, measuring over a half mile long (Judy Baca Biography 1).
Baca’s philosophy on art is seen through her many murals and strong ties to the community and the history of that community. It is rare to see her work displayed in museums. She states:
“I want to produce artwork that has meaning beyond simple decorative values. I hope to use public space to create public voice, and consciousness about the presence of people who are often the majority of the population but who may not be represented in any visual way. By telling their stories we are giving voice to the voiceless and visualizing the whole of the American story while creating sites of public memory.”
Judy Baca embodies what a true cultural citizen is and should because she has used her art to create transform the people surrounding her and created better lives for those who collaborate and work on or witness her art. She has been and is an agent for social change and for creating and changing people’s perspectives of other people, diverse ethnic and cultural groups, and especially of themselves. She was the creator of the “Social and Public Art Resource Center”, or SPARC, in1976, which still serves to support public and community art projects that promote the inclusion of ethnically and economically diverse communities, along with immigrant and female populations (Judy Baca Biography 1). As a professor at UCLA, she continues to share her artistic visions through her teachings and ongoing projects.
In relation to Rich’s piece and Baca’s philosophy, the article says “Art is our Human birthright, our most powerful means of access to our own and another’s experience of imaginative life” (Rich 103). Baca believes in this same idea that art needs to express something more than can be put into words. By incorporating community members in her artwork, it becomes something much more unique and special.
Biersteker, Kathleen. "Artistâs Role." Essay on Judy Baca. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://montereybayartists.com/kb/kb_Judy_Baca.htm>.
Rich, Adrienne. “Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts” in Arts of the Possible: Essays in Conversation, p. 98-103.
"Judy Baca Biography." Judybaca.com. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://www.judybaca.com/now/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=45&Itemid=27>.
"Judy Baca." Judy Baca. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://latino.si.edu/virtualgallery/ojos/bios/bios_Baca.htm>.
"Judith F. Baca: 1946—: Muralist, Visual Artist, Educator - Raised In A Female Household." Biography.org. 2012. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://biography.jrank.org/pages/3257/Baca-Judith-F-1946-Muralist-Visual-Artist-Educator-Raised-In-Female-Household.html>.