Amalia Mesa-Bains


“What you have now then is the marketing of racialized identities as tools for consumption. And certain racialized bodies and images are associated with hipness, coolness, edginess. So all kinds of youth all over the world are appropriating that style as a way of, sort of, countering authority, stating their rebelliousness, and wanting to be seen as significant.”

Essays Written by Amalia Mesa-Bains

My altarwork in the public setting dates back to 1976...

The essay is a brief artist statement in which Amalia Mesa-Bains recounts her beginnings as an altar-maker at the Galería de la Raza in San Francisco in the late 1970s and her subsequent transition from constructing personal altars to public [...]


Read More1983

Ester Hernández

This essay by artist, scholar, and cultural critic Amalia Mesa-Bains explores the personal, cultural, and social histories that have influenced Chicana artist, Ester Hernández. The author begins with an analysis of one of Hernández’s most famous [...]
Read More1988

The archaeological aesthetic of Rimer Cardillo: stratum, element and process

In this essay, Amalia Mesa-Bains provides an analysis of the sculptural works by Uruguayan-born artist, Rimer Cardillo. Her analysis insists on the coexistence of multiple meanings, while also attempting to identify the personal, cultural, and [...]t of showing content in your web page with more interactive way. 

Read More1989

Galeria de la Raza : a study in cultural transformation

In this document, Amalia Mesa-Bains details the development of the Galería de la Raza [Gallery of the People], an important San Francisco cultural institution established in 1970 in the midst of the Chicano Movement. Mesa-Bains describes the ways in [...]
Read More1990

Chicano bodily aesthetics

Amalia Mesa-Bains’s essay focuses on the works included in the Body/Culture: Chicano Figuration exhibition and explores the way in which the specific historical and cultural experiences of Chicanos have influenced their renditions of the human body [...]
Read More1990

Quest for identity : profile of two Chicana muralists : based on interviews with Judith F. Baca and Patricia Rodríguez

In this document, Amalia Mesa-Bains profiles Chicana muralists, Patricia Rodríguez and Judith F. Baca, focusing on their respective artistic developments and their roles in the Chicano Movement, attempting to shed light on the links between social [...]

Signs from the heart California Chicano Murals
Read More1990

Chicano chronicle and cosmology : the works of Carmen Lomas Garza

This essay by Amalia Mesa-Bains was included as the introduction of the catalogue to the exhibition of Carmen Lomas Garza’s art, A Piece of My Heart/Pedacito de Mi Corazón, which traveled to various cities in the states of Texas, California, and [...]

Read More1991

A conversation with Amalia Mesa-Bains

This document is the transcript of an interview between arts writer Meredith Tromble and Chicana visual artist Amalia Mesa-Bains. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship awardee, Mesa-Bains talks about her motivations as an artist, and her particular [...]
Read More1992

Curatorial statement

In this essay, artist and cultural critic Amalia Mesa-Bains situates spirituality as part of an everyday struggle against domination by Latinos, a set of popular practices that offer critical, alternative histories and an important site of resistance [...]
ICAA RECORD ID: 820865ceremony of spirit
Read More1993

Art of the Other México: Sources and Meanings | Arte del Otro México: Fuentes y Significados

In this text, Amalia Mesa-Bains introduces an exhibition of Chicano art with an account of Chicano cultural history, and a description of how the works of art in the show relate to several themes. She organizes her account of Chicano cultural history [...]
Read More1993

Indigenismo : the call to unity

This document is an essay by Amalia Mesa-Bains in which she explores the history of indigenismo, an embrace of one’s indigenous heritage, and the integral role it has had in helping to develop a sense of personal and collective identity within the [...]
Read More1993

Another Life Up Inside Her Head

As the curator of Another Life Up Inside Her Head (1995), an exhibition of seventeen emerging Chicana/Latina artists, Amalia Mesa-Bains considers the precedents for their work, as well as the contemporary contexts in which it has been produced. She [...]
Read More1995

Land and spirituality and the Descansos

Installation artist and scholar Amalia Mesa-Bains argues for the importance of understanding Chicano history and identity in a geographical and spatial framework. She discusses the significance of land—both material and imagined—in Mexican- [...]
Read More1994

The Latina Artist - Amalia Mesa - Bains

The author, Susan Keller, ponders the work of Amalia Mesa-Bains within the context of the Mexican-American social empowerment movement of the 1960s and 1970s, also known as the Chicano Movement. A figurehead of her generation, Mesa-Bains looked to [...]
Read More1998

Domesticana : the sensibility of Chicana rasquache

Building upon scholar and cultural critic Tomás Ybarra-Frausto’s theorization of rasquachismo as a set of aesthetic practices that adopt an oppositional stance to dominant culture and articulate a Chicano identity, Amalia Mesa-Bains—a cultural [...]
Read More1999

Amalia Mesa-Bains is an artist and cultural critic. Her works, primarily interpretations of traditional Chicano altars, resonate both in contemporary formal terms and in their ties to her Chicano community and history. As an author of scholarly articles and a nationally known lecturer on Chicano art, she has enhanced understanding of multi-culturalism and reflected major cultural and demographic shifts in the United States. Throughout her cross-disciplinary career, she has worked to define a Chicano and Latino aesthetic in the U.S. and in Latin America.

She has pioneered the documentation and interpretation of long Chicano traditions in Mexican-American art, both through her cultural activism and through her own altar-installations.  Her works have been exhibited in both national and international venues. As educator and community advocate, she has served the San Francisco Unified School District, the San Francisco Arts Commission, and the Board of Directors for both the Galeria de la Raza and the Center for the arts at Yerba Buena Gardens. She received her BA (1966) from San Jose State College, her MA (1971) from San Francisco State University, an M. A. (1981) and her Ph.D. (1983) in psychology from the Wright Institute in Berkeley. Among her many awards is the distinguished MacArthur Fellowship. She is Professor Emeritus California State University at Monterey Bay.

"Mesa-Bains conveys... the epochal sweep of Latin American experience and captures the transformed sense of reality characteristic of diasporan life."
"[Mesa-Bains'] examines the way that gender and ethnic identity are defined, explores the complex contemporary dilemmas of the Latino community."
Art in America