El Museo del Barrio presented the exhibition Amalia Mesa-Bains: Archaeology of Memory, the first retrospective exhibition by the pioneering artist, curator, and theorist. Born in 1943 to a Mexican immigrant family, Mesa-Bains has been a leading figure in Chicanx art for nearly half a century.


Her practice explores intersectional feminist themes, environmentally centered spirituality, and cultural diversity to counter the racist and gendered erasures of colonial repression. The exhibition features over 40 works including the artist’s large-scale “altar-installations”, as well as prints, artist books, and codices. Anchored by the multi-chapter “Venus Envy” series, Archaeology of Memory is a rare opportunity to view three decades of Mesa-Bains’s genre-defying artworks, many of which are on display together for the first time.


In the mid-’70s, Mesa-Bains’s research in Mexican ancestral traditions led to her groundbreaking reimagination of sacred forms—altares (home altars) and ofrendas (offerings to the dead)—through a contemporary lens as installation art. In the following decades, the artist expanded her altar-based practice, converting domestic furniture such as a desk, table, armoire or vanity into places of devotion and memory. Subsequently, Mesa-Bains began to consider spaces at the intersection of the private and public to explore the lives of female figures from historical and religious contexts, including Mexican nun and intellectual Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and La Virgin de Guadalupe. These sites, which include a library, harem, garden, and laboratory, provide the settings for Mesa-Bains’s archeological inquiry into women’s histories and their colonial erasure.

About Amalia Mesa-Bains

Amalia Mesa-Bains’s work is in the collections of leading art institutions, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX ; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.; and Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA; and has been shown at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Carrillo Gil, Mexico City, Mexico; Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango, Bogota, Colombia; Contemporary Exhibition Center of Lyon, France; El Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Santa Monica, Barcelona, Spain; and Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, Stockholm, Sweden.


She has been the recipient of numerous international awards throughout her career, among them, the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 1992. She is the first and thus far the only Chicana visual artist bestowed the honor.

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