The editorial categories are research topics that have guided researchers during the recovery phase and continue to be the impetus behind the Documents Project’s digital archive and the Critical Documents book series. Developed by the project’s Editorial Board, each of the teams analyzed this framework and adapted it to their local contexts in developing their research objectives and work plans during the Recovery Phase. Learn more on the Editorial Framework page.
In this document, Amalia Mesa-Bains writes about the women’s practice of altar-making, suggesting that while there has been a decline in the performance of and engagement with popular ritual in contemporary life, the creation of altars as both ritual and art objects is flourishing and is being embraced by art institutions, such as museums and galleries. Mesa-Bains identifies two strands that she sees as serving as the ideological foundations of much altar-making today. The first focuses on the role of altar making as part of the reclamation phase of the women’s art movement; and secondly, looks at its place in contemporary manifestations of centuries-old domestic folk-rituals. Mesa-Bains describes the different types of altar production that correspond to these two strands, suggesting that while there are various forms that an altar can take, generally they can be understood as articulating a relationship with the divine or with a religious belief on the part of the altar-maker, as well as the central role of women in the everyday life of their families and communities. Mesa-Bains ends the document with an autobiographical statement centered on the motivations for and characteristics of her own practice as an altar-maker.
Amalia Mesa-Bains is an artist, curator, and cultural critic who has written extensively on Chicana art forms and Chicano/Latino art. This essay was the introduction for the catalog of the 1985 exhibition, Offerings: The Altar Show, at the Social and Public Resource Center in Venice, California, which featured altars from various artists of color, including by Mesa-Bains. It is a comprehensive general discussion of the function of altars, and in the context of art, and it is also a valuable firsthand description of the seminal role Mesa-Bains has had in moving altar-making into an art practice.