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In Montoya’s new mural, flying mortarboards become doves

Professor emeritus Malaquias Montoya works on putting in the fine details of the "Practice of Freedom" mural at the Student Community Center on April 30 at UC Davis. The mural was finished earlier this month. UC Davis/Courtesy photo

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From page A1 | May 20, 2012 |

Malaquias Montoya’s murals can be seen in Los Angeles, Oakland and Berkeley, and throughout Yolo and Solano counties.

And, now, for the first time, he has painted one on his home campus: UC Davis, where he joined the faculty in 1989.

The mural, “The Practice of Freedom,” ushers people into the Student Community Center’s south doors. The building opened in mid-January, but the dedication ceremony was held Friday.

The 24- by 9-foot mural, completed earlier this month, features the university experience from one supportive hand to the other: One welcomes our culturally rich and diverse student body, and the other sends our graduates into the world — “students who are determined to make a difference,” Montoya, professor emeritus, wrote in his narrative for the mural.

The middle part of the mural represents what UCD students find along the way: friendship, caring and support, at places like the Student Community Center, which is depicted in the mural.

The center is “a place where camaraderie, integrity and learning take place,” according to Montoya’s narrative.

The mural also includes a computer and a more traditional symbol of knowledge and education: a book.

“Behind these you see students studying, learning, relaxing and sharing the university environment,” Montoya wrote. “As you move to the right, supported by the hand, the students are culminating this experience, graduating and celebrating, as their academic hats fly into the air and become the universal doves of peace.”

A canvas of empowerment

Montoya’s art is the art of protest, in murals, paintings and silk-screen prints — a body of work that has established him as one of the nation’s most prominent living Chicano artists.

He gives voice to the disenfranchised, say, for example, underrepresented minorities and students who may be the first in their families to go to college — among the people who are represented in “The Practice of Freedom.”

“The element of protest (in a mural like this one) is the element of empowerment to make people feel that they can change their conditions,” he said in an interview with the UCD publication Dateline.

In that respect, for his first campus mural, Montoya could not have asked for a better “canvas” than the Student Community Center — home of the Cross Cultural Center; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center; Student Recruitment and Retention Center; Undergraduate Research Center; and Women’s Resources and Research Center.

As part of his design process, he met with staff and students associated with those offices, asking: “What are the things that are important to you? What does this building stand for?”

Griselda Castro, student affairs associate vice chancellor who helped guide the project from inception to completion, said the center symbolizes the Principles of Community — and Montoya’s mural backs that up.

“It represents our diversity, our respect for one another, our supportive environment,” she said.

‘The Practice of Freedom’

The mural, Castro said, also represents the center’s transformative nature, for students on the journey to education and empowerment.

Montoya’s discussions with Castro and others triggered his recollection of a quote that gave the mural its title. The quote, which appears on the book in the mural, is from educator, author and missionary Richard Shaull (1919-2002):

“There is no such thing as a neutral educational process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ‘the practice of freedom,’ the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with the reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

Lorrie Kempf, a former student of Montoya’s, did the lettering of the Shaull quote, while Jaime Montiel, another former student, and Jose Chavez, a first-year student, assisted on the entire mural.

“The Practice of Freedom” mural is like a mini-university, Montoya said, “encompassing what the university is or should be, reflecting our many different cultures and lifestyles working together.”

He anchored the mural with a tribute to the region’s indigenous past, using a familiar image from his other murals: a maguey plant, which he described as “a rooting life source that expresses the strength and struggle of the people.”

In “The Practice of Freedom,” the maguey protects two departed Patwin Indians, each of whom holds an “inextinguishable flame that illuminates and nourishes us all.”

Montoya taught at UCD full-time for 20 years, in affiliation with Chicana/o studies and the art department.

An emeritus since 2008, he teaches “Chicano Art History” periodically and gives silk-screening instruction at TANA, a community art center in Woodland. TANA, run by the Department of Chicana/o Studies, stands for Taller Arte del Nuevo Amancer (art workshop of the new dawn); Montoya was the visionary behind the project.

There was talk over the years of Montoya’s painting a mural on the campus, but plans never came to fruition, and besides, he said, “I had plenty of murals to do out in the community.”

Indoor-outdoor mural

Indeed, most every spring from 1991 to 2009, he led students in painting a total of 17 murals, mostly at schools in the Davis, Woodland, Dixon and Vacaville areas.

“It’s nice to give a gift, brighten up a school, tell a story,” he said in the spring of 2007, about his mural work at Beamer Elementary School in Woodland. The mural celebrates farming, ancestry, community, dancing and dreams, representing values that the Beamer Park children hold dear.

In all the talk of doing a painting at UCD, Montoya said, he always knew the great difficulty of adding murals to older buildings, after they had acquired “a look.”

For the Student Community Center, though, “They brought me in early” to participate in the building’s design.

The blueprints emerged with space for the mural on a lobby wall. Then came talk of a bigger mural — and extending it outside, into the entryway. And, for the first time, Montoya created an interior-exterior mural, with a glass wall dividing the two sides.

And while he did not intend for the reflections to be part of his artwork, he said he likes what he sees.

“The mortarboards and the doves repeat themselves,” he said. “It’s quite beautiful.”

— UC Davis News Service

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