A New Campus Mural Sheds Light on Tongva Legacy and UCLA's Vision for the Future


Norine Holguin

8/29/20234 min read

In a momentous evening held in April of 2022, a multitude of individuals, all with a shared sense of anticipation, gathered to witness the grand culmination of nearly three years of artistic dedication. In the spotlight, history was woven into the present, and the future was brilliantly depicted as the artist, activist, and professor Judith Baca revealed her monumental masterpiece, "La Memoria de la Tierra: UCLA." This awe-inspiring mural, stretching nearly 80 feet in length, adorns the north side of Ackerman Union, gracing the Wescom Student Terrace. It encapsulates UCLA's storied past, its vibrant present, and its boundless aspirations for the future.

A Fusion of Art and Innovation

One of the mural's most extraordinary aspects is the innovative medium in which it is crafted. Comprising three 26-foot-long glass panels, this mural utilizes a cutting-edge process that fuses minerals and materials into the glass. This unique technique not only enhances the mural's vibrancy but also guarantees its longevity, a testament to the enduring resonance of the stories it conveys.

A Symbol of Resilience and Hope

Creating this mural amidst a pandemic, a social justice movement, and global environmental challenges was a formidable task. Yet, Judith Baca and her dedicated team persevered. Their unwavering commitment to the project during these turbulent times underscores the interconnection of art, history, and the world at large. The mural stands as a symbol of hope and empowerment, inspiring all who encounter it.

Panel 1: The Unearthed Past

The mural's inaugural panel transports us back to a time before the inception of UCLA, to a pristine Westwood teeming with abundant landscapes and thriving Indigenous communities. Glistening with the celestial blue silhouette of Royce Hall, this portrayal serves as a poignant reminder of the land's rich history, untouched before the university's arrival.

Baca's work embodies the Indigenous belief that the land retains all memories. In this panel, she vividly illustrates this notion. The Los Angeles River, once meandering through this terrain, nourished the Gabrielino/Tongva tribes and the native flora and fauna that made this place their home. This canvas roots us in the profound memory of an era before industrialization transformed the landscape.

Panel 2: Celebrating Pioneering Women

The central panel introduces us to a trinity of remarkable women who have played pivotal roles in shaping history. Toypurina, a fearless Tongva woman, symbolizes resistance against Spanish colonial rule in 18th-century California. Angela Davis, an indomitable civil rights activist and former UCLA faculty member, challenges societal norms and fights for justice in the face of adversity. Dolores Huerta, an iconic labor leader, joins the ranks of changemakers, working tirelessly alongside César Chávez to champion the rights of farmworkers.

Surrounding this central trinity are figures who have left indelible marks on UCLA and society as a whole. Their presence on the mural underscores the idea that history is a mosaic woven from diverse narratives and struggles.

Heroes and the Activism

Resilience, Advocacy, and Labor: A Triumvirate of Influence

The mural's central panel introduces us to a captivating circle of heroes who have indelibly shaped UCLA and the land it inhabits. Toypurina, the courageous Tongva woman who defied Spanish missionary colonial rule in the late 1700s, stands prominently alongside Angela Davis, the renowned civil rights activist and former UCLA faculty member. Dolores Huerta, the iconic labor leader who fervently championed farmworkers' rights alongside César Chávez, is also celebrated here.

Chronicles of Significance: From Protests to Manzanar

Going beyond individual portraits, the central panel paints vivid scenes from UCLA's historical past. It immortalizes the Black Lives Matter student demonstrations of 2020, pays homage to the unwavering protests against the Vietnam War in 1976, and offers a poignant portrayal of the haunting legacy of the Manzanar War Relocation Center.

Panel 3: Embracing the Future - Knowledge for All

The mural's third and final panel envisions UCLA's future, transcending the physical confines of the campus. Here, rhizomes, resembling long, narrow roots, reach out, carrying the faces of influential individuals, including numerous faculty members. These figures embody progress and inclusivity, ensuring that UCLA's mission extends far beyond its walls, offering quality education to all.

This panel is designed "to disseminate the knowledge emanating from the university widely," acknowledging that education's impact extends far beyond classrooms, reaching communities and fostering global change.

The Vision of a Harmonious Future

Roots of Progress: Faces of Tomorrow

Our gaze now shifts to the right panel, which offers a glimpse into UCLA's future. Rhizomes, the intricate, narrow roots of progress, cradle the faces of visionaries committed to steering UCLA towards a harmonious coexistence with its land. Among these visionaries are dedicated faculty members, leading the charge towards a brighter tomorrow.

Collaboration and Permanence: The Birth of the Mural

Behind the Scenes: A Collaborative Endeavor

"La Memoria de la Tierra: UCLA" isn't merely a testament to Judith Baca's artistic brilliance but also the fruit of a harmonious collaboration. It emerged through the combined efforts of the UCLA Centennial Committee, Associated Students UCLA (ASUCLA), and the Digital Mural Lab from the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC). Worth mentioning is SPARC, founded by Baca herself in 1976, a hub of creativity dedicated to creating, preserving, and hosting community-based public artwork.

Innovative Materials and Timeless Artistry

This mural transcends conventional artistry by embracing innovative materials. Minerals and inkjet-like extrusions, meticulously wedged within glass, have given birth to a limited collection of one-of-a-kind digital outdoor murals. It symbolizes the evolution of art and its profound connection to the era and environment in which it takes form.

Conclusion: Stories Interwoven

"La Memoria de la Tierra: UCLA" stands as a testament to the transformative power of art and storytelling. It weaves together the threads of history, celebrates diversity and resilience, and envisions a future where education knows no boundaries. As we gaze upon this remarkable mural, we are reminded that our stories, our memories, and our dreams are integral to UCLA's narrative, and together, we can shape a brighter tomorrow.


Fricano, Mike. “New Mural Captures Campus History and UCLA’s Future.” UCLA, 5 Apr. 2022, newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/judy-baca-mural-unveiled.

“La Memoria de La Tierra UCLA 2022.” SOCIAL AND PUBLIC ART RESOURCE CENTER, 28 June 2023, sparcinla.org/projects/la-memoria-de-la-tierra-ucla-2022/.

“UCLA Judy Baca Mural on UCLA Campus.” ASUCLA, www.asucla.ucla.edu/art-around-the-union.

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