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A Mural Remembers L.A.

Chicana artist Barbara Carrasco’s mural, L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, will be installed in the new Welcome Center of NHM Commons.

 

A painting of a woman with scenes of L.A. woven in her hair
Detail of L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, 1981. Artist: Barbara Carrasco

Chicana artist Barbara Carrasco’s landmark 1981 mural, L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, portrays the city’s history through a series of vignettes woven into the flowing hair of la Reina de Los Ángeles (the queen of Los Angeles). NHM was the first museum to show the full length of the once-censored mural in a gallery setting, bringing visitors eye-level with the panoramic work across three walls of an intimate gallery in the exhibition, Sin Censura: A Mural Remembers L.A.
The acquisition of Carrasco’s mural from the artist was made possible by a grant from the Vera R. Campbell Foundation and the mounting and presentation of the mural was supported by Nancy and John Edwards.

The former Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), which originally commissioned Carrasco to create the mural for the city’s 1981 bicentennial, later halted the project when the artist refused to remove 14 depictions of historical moments the agency deemed too controversial. These included scenes referencing the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, and, ironically, the whitewashing of David Alfaro Siqueiros’s outdoor mural América Tropical (1932) that overlooks Olvera Street. 

L.A.'s Vibrant Journey

Each of the 43 Masonite-and-wood panels show vivid highlights of L.A.’s story. Who, for one, were the very first Angelenos? Several scenes show Native Americans, such as the Gabrieleño/Tongva, Spanish explorers, Mexican rancheros, Chinese railroad workers, and African Americans who had come westward. The mural also includes images of the war between the U.S. and Mexico. Frantic horses dominate another illustration of the Battle of Rio San Gabriel, a decisive fight in the Mexican Army’s attempt to stop United States military forces from taking control of Los Angeles. Another vignette shows the Grand Central Market—more than a place for good food, it is a microcosm of L.A.’s diverse cultural offerings.

A Picture of Injustice

In another part of the mural, there’s an image of a young Japanese American girl sitting on a suitcase as she waits to be interned in a U.S. military camp during World War II. Carrasco was told that people wouldn’t want to be reminded of internment, despite having letters of support from several Japanese American organizations. One of the final panels in the mural is a composite group portrait of contemporary Los Angeles, celebrating 20th-century Angelenos such as Mayor Tom Bradley, musician Cesar Rosas, journalist Frank del Olmo, and many of the youth employed to help paint the mural.

“The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is a wonderful place for my mural, L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, to be viewed as a permanent visual testament to the struggles and successes that the diverse communities of Los Angeles have experienced,” said Carrasco. “I have been looking for a home for this mural for many years. NHM, where I came as a little girl and later spent time conducting research for the mural, is the perfect home for it.”

 

Watch more from the artist: