Press RoomPhoenix Art Museum presents first major retrospective of work by groundbreaking Chicana artist Amalia Mesa-Bains

Phoenix Art Museum presents first major retrospective of work by groundbreaking Chicana artist Amalia Mesa-Bains

Phoenix Art Museum presents first major retrospective of work by groundbreaking Chicana artist Amalia Mesa-Bains
Sep, 08, 2023

Exhibitions and Special InstallationsSpecial Engagement Exhibitions

Phoenix Art Museum presents first major retrospective of work by groundbreaking Chicana artist Amalia Mesa-Bains

Amalia Mesa-Bains: Archaeology of Memory offers a rare opportunity to experience a range of the artist’s signature large-scale altar-installations and lesser-known works 

PHOENIX (September 8, 2023) – This fall, Phoenix Art Museum (PhxArt) presents Amalia Mesa-Bains: Archaeology of Memory, the first major retrospective to explore the historically significant work and career of acclaimed multimedia artist, scholar, and activist Amalia Mesa-Bains, who has dedicated her practice and advocacy work to underscoring the value and legitimacy of Chicanx art within the contemporary art world. Heralded as “long-overdue” by ARTnews, the exhibition organized by Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) spans more than four decades and brings together nearly 60 works across a range of media, including the artist’s iconic altar-installations and her lesser-studied handmade books and palimpsest prints characterized by her signature archeological aesthetic of layering and excavation. Amalia Mesa-Bains: Archaeology of Memory will be on view from November 5, 2023 through February 25, 2024, in Steele Gallery at Phoenix Art Museum. 

“Phoenix Art Museum is proud to present Amalia Mesa-Bains: Archaeology of Memory to Arizona audiences,” said Jeremy Mikolajczak, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “Over the past 40+ years, Mesa-Bains has played a pivotal role in elevating Chicanx art and making visible the experiences of Mexican American and other marginalized women whose stories are often erased. With this retrospective, Mesa-Bains is finally getting the recognition she deserves, and we are excited to bring her important body of work to our local community as further evidence of how Latinx women artists have expanded—and continue to impact—contemporary art forms and modes of expression, a theme we explore throughout our 2023-2024 exhibition season.”  

Born in 1943 in Santa Clara, California, to immigrant parents, Mesa-Bains is an artist, activist, 

educator, and scholar who has explored the experiences, spiritual practices, and histories of Mexican American women. In the mid-1970s, she first innovated with sacred forms such as altares (home altars), ofrendas (offerings to the dead), and descansos (roadside resting places), which are rooted in Mexican Indigenous traditions of honoring familial ancestors. These works—now considered her signature altar-installations—also honor the memories of the artist’s cultural predecessors, including Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Santa Teresa de Ávila, Frida Kahlo, and other women whose lives defied the societal norms and expectations of their time. Mesa-Bains eventually expanded her approach to installation to explore more public environments such as laboratories, libraries, gardens, and landscapes, which her work continues to consider today. 

The artist’s collective body of work offers an archeological examination into the politics of space, highlighting the complexities of domestic life for immigrant and Mexican American women across different historical periods. Mesa-Bains also explores the many ways colonial narratives erase Mexican, African American, and Indigenous identities from mainstream American media and culture. Through her practice, the artist has blazed a trail for feminist Chicanx art, bringing it to wider global audiences and carving a place for it more broadly within the history of contemporary American art. 

“We’re excited to highlight the important work of Amalia Mesa-Bains and share with regional audiences not only her major impact on the field of contemporary American art but also her personal connection to the Greater Phoenix Metro Area,” said Christian Ramírez, assistant curator of contemporary and community art initiatives. “In 1990, Movimiento Artístico del Río Salado, an artist-run non-profit art space that promoted the work of Arizona and Mexican American/Chicanx artists, presented a solo exhibition of Mesa-Bains’ work titled (Re)(Un)(Dis)covering America: A Counter Quincentenary Celebration. Now, decades later, we’re thrilled to showcase Amalia’s works in the Valley once again, this time at Phoenix Art Museum and through a major examination of the totality of her career and its enduring impact on Chicanx and feminist art.” 

Amalia Mesa-Bains: Archaeology of Memory is accompanied by the first major monograph on the artist’s work. The publication, edited by co-curators María Esther Fernández and Laura E. Pérez, spans for the first time the artist’s installations created from the 1970s to the present and features an essay by and interview with Mesa-Bains. The book also brings together top-tier scholars, including Amalia Mesa-Bains, María Esther Fernández, Laura E. Pérez, Lowery Stokes Sims, Jennifer A. González, Adriana Zavala, and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, who explore the ecofeminism, migrant histories, spirituality, and politics of erasure that ground Mesa-Bains’ interdisciplinary practice. The monograph is co-published by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) and University of California Press. 

High-resolution photography can be downloaded here. To request interviews, contact the Communications Office of Phoenix Art Museum at 602.257.2117 or  

About the Exhibition 

Amalia Mesa-Bains: Archaeology of Memory is organized by Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) in collaboration with the Latinx Research Center (LRC) at UC Berkeley. The exhibition is co-curated by María Esther Fernández, Artistic Director, The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum, and Laura E. Pérez, PhD, Professor of Chicanx, Latinx and Ethnic Studies, and Chair of the Latinx Research Center, UC Berkeley. Its presentation at Phoenix Art Museum is coordinated by Christian Ramírez, the Cohn Assistant Curator of Contemporary and Community Art Initiatives.

Amalia Mesa-Bains: Archaeology of Memory is made possible by generous lead support from the Henry Luce Foundation and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The exhibition’s presentation at

Phoenix Art Museum is made possible through the generosity of Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust Exhibition Endowment Fund. All exhibitions at Phoenix Art Museum are underwritten by the Phoenix Art Museum Exhibition Excellence Fund, founded by The Opatrny Family Foundation with additional major support provided by Joan Cremin. In-kind support provided by Kimpton Hotel Palomar.

Admission is free for Museum Members; youth aged 5 and younger; and Maricopa County Community Colleges students. Entrance into the exhibition is included in general admission for the public. Visitors may also enjoy reduced admission to the exhibition during voluntary-donation times on Wednesdays from 3 – 9 pm, made possible by SRP and City of Phoenix. For a full breakdown of general admission prices and hours, see

About Phoenix Art Museum 

Since 1959, Phoenix Art Museum has provided millions of guests with access to world-class art and experiences in an effort to ignite imaginations, create meaningful connections, and serve as a brave space for all people who wish to experience the transformative power of art. Located in Phoenix’s Central Corridor, the Museum is a vibrant destination for the visual arts and the largest art museum in the southwestern United States. Each year, more than 300,000 guests engage with critically acclaimed national and international exhibitions and the Museum’s collection of more than 20,000 works of American and Western American, Asian, European, Latin American, modern and contemporary art, and fashion design. The Museum also presents a comprehensive film program, live performances, and educational programs designed for visitors of all ages, along with vibrant photography exhibitions made possible through the Museum’s landmark partnership with the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. To learn more about Phoenix Art Museum, visit, or call 602.257.1880. 

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