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In this document, Professor Amelia Malagamba discusses the practice of altar making, a traditional form of cultural production from Mexico that has been further developed by Chicano artists living in the United States. Her focus is on articulating a continuum of this tradition, which she approaches through the framework of “cultural inventory,” by which Malagamba takes account of the long history of this practice through discussions of the significance of altars to Mesoamerican cultures; their use during the colonial period; public altars in Mexico; domestic altars in the Southwestern United States; and more recent works by Chicana altaristas (women altar-makers). Malagamba suggests that the latter can be seen as reflecting elements from this history at the same time that they articulate a decidedly contemporary relationship to the practice and significance of altar making. The text also includes a transcript of a question and answer segment that took place between Malagamba, Victor Zamudio-Taylor, and audience members present for her talk.
Amelia Malagamba is an assistant professor at the School of Art at Arizona State University, where she teaches Chicana/o art and cultural studies. This paper was presented at the National Graduate Seminar held at the American Photography Institute in 1997, and reflects her research and curatorial emphasis on Latina/o visual arts and culture, border art, and Mexican photography. While some scholars have written about Mexican altar traditions and Chicano innovations within the context of their transformation from altar into art installation, Malagamba’s paper offers a cohesive discussion of this important artistic transition within a historical and cultural continuum.