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'People of the Corn' Mural Rises Up at Downtown L.A. School

People of the Corn shines from within a campus.

Unveiled May 8, "Gente del Maiz" anchors the ethos of the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex. With a new process of materials and paints, the Judy Baca mural glistens as it reflects community, labor, and immigration, using the west edge of downtown Los Angeles as a centerpoint.

"It's really magnificant," said muralist Judy Baca, days before the mural was dedicated in the cafeteria of the campus named after labor union organizer Miguel Contreras, and funded by the foundation that bears his name. "It's a new process of substrates, and really talks about the neighborhood."

The site specific work, she explained, is the outcome of studies work-shopped with UCLA students. They began by looking at the children of a labor force embedded in a region known to the outside world for gang activity, and focused on their graduation aspirations and obstacles, which were then formed into a story that represents the neighborhood's assets.

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The center figure, a "Corn Image Trinity," is a female graduate in cap and gown, flanked by two male students, seeding and watering the land from an ear of corn as a platform. They front a background of farm workers walking single file in a field that arches along the horizon behind the Latino/a students. The figures blend into a crop of downtown's skyscrapers, seemily walking into a major boulevard and joining a street crowded with marchers -- a nod to the legacy of vast immigration and labor marches around the globe. Toward the front of the march is a banner reading "PASS the DREAM ACT," leading the sea of people past buildings with historical photos on their sides and rooftops (murals within a mural).

"It incorporates so many different layers of Los Angeles, the labor movement, and immigration, plus leaders in the State," say complex principal Heather Daims, who took time away from administering the three campus complex to catch glimpses of the mural being installed. "It's an astonishing piece of work. We are developing a curriculum of the mural, so students can get understand what is there."

She and her students, along with SPARC and UCLA students, were at the ceremonial dedication that included Mayor Villaraigos and Maria Elena Durazo, widow of Contreras, and now executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

"What I love about [mural] art -- it's peoples art," said Villaraigosa. "Everyone gets to see a mural."

The mural was first planned to be installed on an exterior wall in the tradition of public access, but new substrates had Baca and SPARC install the mural inside the campus to protect the work. Daims assures that the public can view the mural after signing in at the front office of the school.

Daims, who opened the campus in 2006 and is retiring this year, considers murals an important community component, and she talks about the wealth of empty walls on her campus adding "even street art can be really provocative."

"I'm happy it happened it on my tenure," said Daims of "Gente del Maiz." "It's a fabulous way to end my time here."

"Gente del Maiz" on the campus of Miguel Contreras Learning Center 322 Lucas Ave. just west of Downtown Los Angeles. An in-depth look at the piece can be found at SPARC. Image courtesy of Judy Baca / SPARC. Below is SPARC's video of the mural's unveiling:

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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Gente de La Maiz is incorrect. Maiz is a masculine noun in Spanish, so it should read "Gente de el Maiz" or "Gente del Maiz". I can't believe no one told the artist of this basic grammatical error that anyone who speaks simple Spanish would quickly notice. If Spanish is not your native language, and I don't mean Spanglish, than perhaps the artist should just have used English in the title or asked someone who actually knows Spanish.