Kumeyaay artist Johnny Bear Contreras’ sculpture “When the World Comes to Life” will be unveiled in John Muir College on June 6 at 9:30 a.m. Originally planned as a mural, the art piece includes two large aluminium panels which will be attached to the side of Stewart Commons, facing the Middle of Muir Quad.
The art piece is centered around the themes of self-identity, the Muir motto of celebrating the independent spirit, sexuality, and the body, as well as sustainability.
Planning for the art piece started last year by Muir senior Alexandra Harbert and Muir junior and Muir College Council President Roy Velasquez, along with support from Muir faculty and staff including Provost Wayne Yang and the Coordinator of Student Activities Haley Lomax. Harbert explained to the UCSD Guardian that the art piece is intended to serve as a reminder to students of what it means to attend UC San Diego.
“We were motivated to develop this art project because it is important that students, or any staff, faculty, or visitors, are aware that UC San Diego is on Kumeyaay land,” Harbert said. “Many students or potential students do not know or find out during their career at UCSD. We hope this art piece will spark conversations about what it means for us to be here.”
Harbert and Velasquez found out about Contreras during a meeting with Elena Hood of the Intertribal Resource Center and Stan Rodriguez, who is also part of the Kumeyaay, in May 2018. Contreras has previously created a sculpture for the Kumeyaay Garden on USD’s campus and has exhibited sculptures at Poway City Hall.
The Guardian wrote an article last year about the mural when Harbert and Velasquez were in the middle of planning for it.
“We did not find the artist until the project was cleared by the involved parties, which happened a year after the planning process,” Harbert explained. “The first year involved a lot of planning, theme determination, and location scouting. We needed to find funding, work with HDH to clear attaching the sculpture to the side of their building, and began looking for an artist. The second year was dedicated to developing what the art piece will look like and creating it — which was Johnny’s part.”
The art piece theme planning involved other organizations around campus including the LGBT Resource Center, the Native American Student Association, the LGBTQIA+ Living Learning Community Intern, the Cross-Cultural Center, and the Student Sustainability Center.
Samuel Lucero, the chair of the Native American Student Association, spoke to the Guardian about the importance of this new sculpture.
“We are all happy to have such a talented artist provide an art piece to represent the Kumeyaay people on campus,” Lucero said. “It really means a lot to have this sort of representation, not only for the Kumeyaay people but for all Native American people on campus. It can be tough to go to a place where there aren’t many people from your culture and although NASA aims to provide a welcoming and safe community for Native students, it is encouraging to see Johnny Bear’s piece. I feel that it is a symbol of strength, positivity, and acceptance for not only Native folks but for all UCSD students, faculty, and staff.”
The sculpture will be the first art piece on the UCSD campus by a Native American artist. The piece will join a new collection of public art celebrating culture and influential social justice leaders at UC San Diego. The new collection includes the bronze sculpture of Sojourner Truth and the Chicano Legacy Mural in Thurgood Marshall College, and the Black Legacy Mural and table tops in Price Center.
Photo courtesy of John Muir College.