Pitzer Community Mural "Decolonizes Academic Space"

The Yagna Mural seen on the west side of Scott Hall at Pitzer College on April 20. (Courtesy of Dana Nothnagel)

After a Global Local Mentorship Program trip to Canada in the spring of 2016 with Associate Professor of Sociology Erich Steinman, several students were inspired to establish a mural to pursue the process of decolonizing the Pitzer College community and bringing to light the importance of California natives.

“This mural is reflective of the traditions and the stories of the indigenous people here, and it’s a way to tell their story," Community Engagement Center Staff Member and Assistant Director of Native American Initiatives Scott Scoggins said.

The mural’s design was a collaborative effort between Joe Galarza, a well-known indigenous artist who has painted two other murals on Pitzer’s campus, and Pitzer’s Tongva Elder Julia Bogany. “Sacred Grandmother” depicts twins holding up the earth, which according to some indigenous beliefs, was on the back of a turtle. Above the turtle is a tree with a beating heart and grandmother overlooking all.

It was painted in Scott Courtyard on the side of Scott Hall, the primary academic building at Pitzer College, with the stated purpose of “honoring our ancestors past, present, and future.”

Dana Nothnagel PZ ‘19 attended the Global Local Mentorship Program and contributed to the organization of the mural. She wrote in an email to TSL that the mural's organizers received funding from Student Senate last spring, and then got the idea approved by the Aesthetics Committee and College Council.

Nothnagel wrote that the biggest obstacle in the planning process was getting approved by the College Council and the President's cabinet.

“At first they were very unreceptive, but by the end of last semester, we had pushed through. Painting started in January and finished just a couple of weeks ago,” Nothnagel wrote. 

Throughout the painting of the mural, students and members of the community were invited to help paint, and many were responsive.

“We wanted students to be involved in decolonizing our academic space," Nothnagel wrote. "We talk about healing through art a lot at Pitzer, and I think this was a way students used art to heal, learn, and participate in social change."

Diversity Staff Intern Phil Brayley PZ '19 said, "The mural brings more of the people of this area to this campus. A lot of the stories from different cultures are represented.”

With the numerous symbols and indigenous stories within “Sacred Grandmother," Nothnagel shared the mural’s impact on her.

“The mural stands as a reminder that we need to push aside Western academia and make space for traditional learning and knowledge," Nothnagel said. “I hope that this mural and talking circle might help start a larger conversation on campus about how we can create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for students that identify as indigenous. I hope that it reminds settler students that we are on stolen land and encourages them to dig deeper into their own identity.”

“Sacred Grandmother” was officially dedicated on Thursday.