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    Introduction : sanctums of the spirit - the altares of Amalia Mesa-Bains / Tomás Ybarra-Frausto
    Grotto of the Virgins : installation by Amalia Mesa-Bains. -- New York, NY : INTAR Latin American Gallery, 1987.
    p. 2-9
    Book/pamphlet article – Essays
    Ybarra-Frausto, Tomás. "Introduction : sanctums of the spirit - the altares of Amalia Mesa-Bains." In Grotto of the Virgins : installation by Amalia Mesa-Bains, 2-9. Exh. cat., New York, NY : INTAR Latin American Gallery, 1987.
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This essay by Tomás Ybarra-Frausto was included in the catalogue of the 1987 exhibition, Grotto of the Virgins: Installation by Amalia Mesa-Bains, which was held at the INTAR Latin American Gallery in New York. Ybarra-Frausto discusses the installation artwork of Amalia Mesa-Bains, which takes the form of domestic altars; that is, devotional altars often found in the homes of Spanish-speaking people living in the United States. According to Ybarra-Frausto, the altares of Mesa-Bains express a Chicano sensibility infused with her own personal experiences, thereby transcending the boundaries of this typical form of devotional folk art. He divides Mesa-Bains’ altares artwork into three periods: the Initial Phase, Cultural Reclamation Altars (1975–80); the Intermediate Phase, Shrines of Reconciliation (1980–85); and the Grottos for the Ceremony of Memory, which was the name he gave to the phase contemporaneous with the Grotto of the Virgins exhibition.


Tomás Ybarra-Frausto is an academic and cultural critic who has provided leadership in the area of Chicano art scholarship since the 1970s and who has influenced subsequent generations of disciples. In this essay, Ybarra-Frausto utilizes the evolution of altar-based art within Amalia Mesa-Bains’s œuvre to also chronicle the development of Mexican personal altars into Chicano public installation art. He gives particular attention to the fact that it was a female-specific art form initially, used by Chicana artists to validate and honor other Chicana artists, such as Mesa-Bains’ altars to Frida Kahlo, and Dolores del Rio, the Mexican Hollywood actress. Ybarra-Frausto makes a case for Mesa-Bains’s “experimental maturity” mimicking Chicano art’s progress during the late-1980s and into the ‘90s, which has moved beyond simple referencing of Mexican art and into more universal and primal-based aesthetics.

Tere Romo
Chicano Studies Research Center, UCLA, Los Angeles, USA
Courtesy of Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, New York, N.Y