Judy Baca

Mexican-American installation artist and muralist

Judith Francisca Baca (born September 20, 1946) is an American Chicana artist, activist, and professor.


  • All my pieces are about resilience in the face of adversity
  • Murals are not easel paintings,” Baca said. “They’re not individual works created for simple self-expression of your opinion in a public space. To do public works means that you’re making something. A real mural is connected to the architecture in which it’s placed, connected to the people for whom it’s painted and connected to who you paint with. And when it is incredibly well done, it’s like a choreographed dance.
  • They very often would let me paint, you know, instead of doing some of the other lessons, because I didn't speak English well enough. So I had a lot of painting. And I brought the paintings home with great pride, and my mother kept them for years, so I do know that I sort of…That was a place that I actually remember the smell of those materials and the texture of the surfaces and just, you know, kind of having this real visceral love of moving that color around -- which is, I think, you know, I still have that…
  • That musical time is a way of like creating a rhythm within the piece. And it was an amazing experience for me to see how when lines, directional lines, went through forms -- how forms, if moved to fit within the ratio, to hit the points. Like in other words, if an arm flies out, it goes to the point. Suddenly there's this like visual kind of connection between the forms, and it fits like, clicks like pieces of a puzzle, right into place…
  • My work has been ignored a lot in LA … and the men here have been pretty profoundly unable to see women as their peers. That’s been the struggle of my whole life as a Chicana and activist and feminist. It’s created a devil-may-care attitude for me. I had to just perceive what I was doing as significant for myself and my community and move ahead with willfulness and belief, buoyed by the community people I worked with – not by the arts.
  • In some ways, we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us
  • I always thought I’d make a work and it’d go out into the ether, never to be seen again or spoken about,” she said. “But I realized that when I was making it, that I was processing through my hands, and through my art. I was finding a way to live with truth that was hard and difficult. It was a way of keeping me sane, and keeping me in the process of healing, and healing those around me
  • Murals can do some amazing work in the world, because they live in the places where people live and work, because they can be made in relationship to the people who see them, because the people themselves can have input, if it’s done in a profound way. And that’s what I intend to keep doing as long as I’m standing here on earth.
  • Arts are a magnificent way to deal with multilingual people. Arts are an entryway.
  • I was expanding the role of women in my own thoughts. I wanted to break all the rules. Women don’t build in massive scale, women don’t build monuments or make public art. Women play with dollhouses; they don’t make architectural statements, they don’t build Disney Hall. There is no financial backing for women to develop the agency of a Frank Gehry. Women will never have that power in my lifetime.
  • I'm interested in stepping outside the traditional role of arts, the creation of beautiful paintings bought by wealthy people to decorate their homes. People with expendable wealth could acquire art and determine who could see it. For me, art could go where my family went, in neighborhoods where museums are as foreign as the moon, so that working and poor people who had a great appreciation of beauty could see the murals and live with them. I was fighting a whole series of stereotypes...
  • (You have mentored so many young people. Who was a mentor for you?) Gilbert Roland, the actor. He was one of the first to break the notions of who a Mexican actor was. He was a silent movie star and was in the original talkies. He was the original Cisco Kid, a vaquero. He created the character of the gentleman who was a beautiful Latin lover, with a shot of whiskey and a rose in a vase on the bar. He would smell the rose before throwing back the whiskey. He had both tenderness and strength. Women's leadership can be both vulnerable and strong, that's the trick.
  • I will hire anyone who has the will and the capacity and will put down a knife for brushes! The deal was, no violence. We had to enforce this; it was always a negotiation. The kids had to find other ways to express conflict.
  • It doesn't matter if it's art or digging a ditch, building an airplane or making a sculpture, what matters is that it's a creative, innovative act. That the hands of the group have more power joined together. What really matters is the collaboration and skills young people develop figuring out how to get it done.
  • Some of the young people found in the arts a place to live, but I wasn't intending to make them artists, I wanted to make them citizens, part of the world they lived in.
  • I was trained as a minimal and gestural painter, in color theory, color optics, that's what was popular in the universities. And then I walked into a moment in history when the civil rights movement was in full effect. The Chicano Moratorium against the Viet Nam war, Cesar Chavez, Belvedere Park, I was there. I was in Cal State Northridge when students occupied the administration building. I thought, "Okay, I am perfectly suited to do nothing about any of these issues, I am a color field painter, what good am I?" On the night of my graduation, my grandmother said sweetly in Spanish, "What is it good for, what does it do?" Everything in her life had reason and meaning, even the little plants growing by the water fountain in her yard in South Central were used for healing. She could turn a stick in a coffee can into a beautiful thing, and I thought to myself, "I've got to learn what this is for." I began to systematically unlearn and move away from elitist system of arts. I realized that arts lived in all people. More primitive cultures have a culture of gifts, so the gift grows as it's given. In the potlatch of the Northwest, the tribal chief who gives you the goats expects you to have a big feast. In our culture, the gift giving culture meets capitalist culture, the culture of acquisition, where we value what men acquire instead of what they give away. In old cultures, those who gave the most were the most regarded. I began to see that if art were given away, it would grow. I began to answer my grandmother's questions one by one, and began to change the way I made art. The scale had to be big enough to include others. I had to think about we as opposed to me, the creation of family versus the agency of the individual. As I started to do that, I began to see I was very good at that.
  • What we need more now is to make art that is about connection. Mural painting is a perfect form, the oldest form, we know those cave guys were marking those walls for magic. Those guys were shamans who recorded history. I haven't traveled far from these ideas, that particular role, or consciousness, so that you can elevate your worries about global warming into a song that will move the souls of everybody in the room. This is a different and bigger role than the western European visions of art. This vision goes back to the ancient American. I like to say mural painting is a form made in connectedness, connected to architecture, to the river, where we made our first huge mistake in the city. We concreted the artery, and my job was to begin healing the river and the people. We are connected to that river, we are connected to living things, the whole planet, the Gaia, the large philosophical point of view, the creation of another idea of what can be.
  • (Do you have any advice for young people?) To dream big, to not hold back these dreams. Imagine yourself in places you never have been, to have a bigger idea, to not be afraid to make mistakes. If you make mistakes, make passionate mistakes. Move through narrow visions of who you will be. Have a dream bigger than your families.
  • (How has the city changed over the decades?) In the 70's we were so engaged - that's a hard one for me, to try not to discount the losses, to see what is hopeful. I feel a lot of times that we've lost leadership. There's no Cesar Chavez or Robert Kennedy. We've lost the great inspiring role models that gave us ideas about a bigger self. We started to value the celebrity, the person who got his. Television is continually about advancing the renovation of your house, about objects and material. Where do we learn the bigger values, a shared sense of community and activities? We repeatedly reduce the commons, the spaces where we meet across race and class and difference. I'm very concerned about loss of the commons. People need more and more to remember the nature of human beings. We are social beings. As humans we are tribal, we need to be in community, we thrive in that situation with one another and grow by virtue with that.
  • One legacy of muralism is to make the point that we are losing the public commons. We should recognize we need them and fight for them. Parks and schools can be commons. Spaces and arts should not be privatized. Arts should be public...

Quotes about Judy Baca

  • a great American artist who has always had a strong sense of place, occasion and history.
    • Elizabeth Alexander quoted in article (2022)
  • Judy Baca is one of our great feminist artists...She has not received the kind of attention she should have received over the course of her career. She has been a low and steady and every day practitioner.
    • Sandra Jackson-Dumont quoted in article (2022)
  • Judy invented a model of public art...Rather than plop down a monument or a sculpture, without accounting for the people around it, Judy really started a model where you have that community engagement early on in the neighborhood. So people in the neighborhood had a sense of connection with the work.
    • Alessandra Moctezuma quoted in article (2022)
  • Student activism has translated into community activism. In southern California alone, many women exemplify the credo of giving back to your community. Judy Baca is an internationally renowned muralist whose work brings Chicano history to life.
    • Vicki L. Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America
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