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The half-mile long Great Wall of Los Angeles mural is getting longer

 Judy Baca and artists working on the expansion of The Great Wall.
Iman Maani/NPR
Judy Baca and artists working on the expansion of The Great Wall.

Updated July 08, 2024 at 18:14 PM ET

Along the L.A. River, history reveals itself through paintings of figures and events dating from prehistoric times to the 1950s on The Great Wall of Los Angeles.

The more-than-half-mile-long mural that has stretched along the river for about 40 years is getting a 21st century update as new sections are being painted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

The new additions will bring the mural, already one of the world’s largest, to a full mile long.

The original project was born out of the artistic vision of Judy Baca, a Chicana artist and activist. In the mid-1970s, Baca was approached by the Army Corps of Engineers about beautifying the Tujunga flood-control channel.

Upon arriving at the river, Baca reflected on how the different neighborhoods in Los Angeles rarely came together and were segregated by race or nationality. Imagining a space where art could bring together the history and stories of these communities inspired the creation of The Great Wall.

Judy Baca stands in front of the mural that depicts images symbolizing the gay rights movement in Los Angeles.
Iman Maani/NPR /
Judy Baca stands in front of the mural that depicts images symbolizing the gay rights movement in Los Angeles.

“I thought, what if we on this endless wall came all together? And I began painting The Great Wall thinking that I would create a narrative mural, with a team that would work across race and class, having them understand that their history, black history, Chicano history, Asian history, women's history, was all of our history. To see ourselves connected, visually demonstrated as connected in the imagery,” Baca explained.

With funding from juvenile justice and poverty programs, Baca started working with dozens of youth along with hundreds of artists and other community members. Over the course of painting The Great Wall, more than 400 collaborators were employed for the project.

She co-founded the Social and Public Art Resource Center to spend five summers, between 1976 and 1983, using paint to tell the untold stories of Native American, Chicano and Latinx, Asian American, African American, Jewish, female, and working-class communities on The Great Wall of Los Angeles.

Baca hopes the expansion of the mural continues the work of advancing the civil rights of communities whose stories are made invisible.

“We're visualizing for you the realism and the magic of the story that is ours. It will breed respect and understanding of the resilience of us, the resilience of people who've come through incredibly difficult times. And still they've managed to contribute. They've managed to transform our societies,” Baca said.

Ricardo Mendoza, one of the artists who is working on the expansion of The Great Wall, said the new installment “deals with alternative histories and people, people of color, women, minorities, and just going back in time with all these really important issues.

The expansion of The Great Wall includes images recalling the 1968 assassination of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
Iman Maani/NPR /
The expansion of The Great Wall includes images recalling the 1968 assassination of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

“This is for generations of folks to really wrap their souls and their minds around content that will inform and heal,” he continued. “It's like poetry and metaphor to help people understand moments in history. It's like a classroom that way.”

When Baca first started painting The Great Wall, she did extensive research to paint accurate representations of history.

“I could not go to the library in 1976 and pull down a book on Black History or Chicano history. I could not pull down a book on women's history. It was just the beginning of a time in which we were beginning to collect that kind of material,” she said.

Choosing murals as the medium to tell these stories was important to Rio Diaz, an artist who also left her mark on The Great Wall.

“It’s an art form that is accessible to everyone. Not everyone in our community has the freedom and the time to come into a museum.”

The mural expansion is painted on a scrolled canvas that will later be applied to the wall of the Tujunga Wash. Baca and her team will be working at LACMA until July 21, 2024.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Iman Maani
Iman Maani is a production assistant on Morning Edition and Up First. She began her journalism career at Member station NCPR in Canton, New York. She has also worked on the political docu-series, Power Trip, that covered the midterm elections. Iman is a graduate from St. Lawrence University.

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