This two-part exhibition features Amalia Mesa-Bains’s Venus Envy, Chapter I: The First Holy Communion Moments Before the End (1993/2022), presented for the first time since it was originally realized in 1993. The first of a series of autobiographical installations Mesa-Bains completed over several decades, the work departs from the artist’s own childhood experience of her first Holy Communion to examine broader codes of gender in Catholic rituals and ceremonial rites of passage, exploring the symbolic roles of the virgin, the nun, and the bride. On the walls, Mesa-Bains juxtaposes writings unearthed through her long-term research and found images to critique the Church’s treatment of women throughout history. In five vitrines, she weaves together carefully selected objects, photographs, mementos, and clothing from her life as well as those collected from other artists and friends. Transforming the entire space of the gallery, Mesa-Bains investigates the processes through which both personal and collective identity are shaped, experienced, and affirmed.
Spanning the two adjacent galleries is Madrinas y Hermanas (Godmothers and Sisters), a presentation of works from SFMOMA’s permanent collection curated by Mesa-Bains and accompanied by texts written by the artist. The works in this presentation were made by artists — including Frida Kahlo, Ruth Asawa, Mildred Howard, and Hung Liu — who represent, as Mesa-Bains describes, “those who came before me and are an inspiration or mentors (Godmothers) and those who I have exhibited with, worked with and with whom I share a vision and purpose (Sisters).”