Pacita Abad Exhibition at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Pacita Abad’s retrospective exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art features more than 40 mixed-media fabric paintings and is her first US museum retrospective. The exhibition is on view currently and through January 28, 2024. It then travels to the Museum of Modern Art PS 1 in New York City, New York, and will be exhibited at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada, in 2024–25. The show was organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and curated by Victoria Sung. It is the largest museum exhibition in the US devoted to an Asian-American female artist. 

Abad (1946–2004) was born in Batanes, Philippines. With both parents involved in politics, they moved from Batanes to Manilla, the capitol of the Philippines, when Abad was a child. 

She attended college in Manila, where she led student demonstrations against the repressive Marcos regime, resulting in her being sent abroad in 1970 to stay with relatives in San Francisco, California. She became engrossed in the artistic scene of the early 70s in San Francisco, and her career turned toward art. There she met her husband, Jack Garrity, an economist who later worked for the World Bank, and together they traveled and lived in more than 60 countries. Her extensive travels were perhaps the greatest influence on her artwork. 


Pacita Abad with her trapunto painting Ati-Atihan;1983; wearing garments and jewelry collected on her travels.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Pacita Abad Art Estate.

Becoming a trans-national artist, Abad incorporated new materials and methods as well as cultural influences from each place she lived. She collected textiles and kept them in scrapbooks. The exhibition contains one example of her many fabric scrapbooks. She also collected buttons, braids, beads, sequins, shells, and mirrors to use in her works.  

Abad sought out the local traditional craftspeople as well as immigrants, refugees, Indigenous people, and marginalized people, learning from them and representing their viewpoints in her work. Her works involved painting with acrylic paint on a variety of fabrics that she then sewed together. These large quilt-like compositions range from scenes of everyday life to underwater vistas, to abstracts recalling the “pattern and decoration” movement to socio-political and immigrant life commentaries. One large piece in the exhibit celebrates the textile traditions of the Philippines. Abad used lavish decorative elements liberally along with over-the-top tropical color, reflecting her Filipino culture. 



L. A. Liberty; 1992; acrylic paint, cotton yarn, plastic buttons, mirrors, gold thread, painted cloth; stitched, padded; 94 x 58 in.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Pacita Abad Art Estate.

Collection of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, T.B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2022.

Photo credit: Max McClure

European Mask; 1990; acrylic paint, mixed media, canvas; stitched, padded canvas; 160 x 103 in.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Pacita Abad Art Estate.

Collection of the Tate Modern, London, England, purchased with funds provided by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2019.

Photo credit: AtMaculangan/Pioneer Studios

A unique feature of Abad’s art is her use of trapunto, a quilting technique that originated in Italy before the 14th century. Trapunto quilting involves cutting a slit in the backing of a piece and adding stuffing to create raised, three-dimensional areas. Abad’s use of trapunto adds to the lush over-abundance of her art, creating shadows and softening the surfaces. The fabric nature of her work allows it to be folded or rolled, making transport easier. Many works in the exhibition have never been shown in the US; this show brings some of them together for the first time. For example, her Masks from Six Continents, inspired by Indigenous mask traditions, is presented in its entirety.  

Abad had several solo exhibitions in the Philippines, including a major retrospective in 2004. She created more than 4,500 works during her lifetime, but this impressive amount of work has been overlooked in the mainstream art world. Perhaps this lack of recognition is because her work straddles the line between craft and fine art and was created by a Filipino woman.  Her work speaks to the political repression and immigration issues of the 1970s through the early 2000s. It is also relevant in today’s world. This exhibition of Pacita Abad’s works exemplifies the powerful fiber art that is finally getting some well-deserved institutional recognition.


One Hundred Years of Freedom: from Batanes to Jolo; 1998; oil, acrylic paint, Philippine cloth (abaca, pineapple, jusi, banana fibers), Ilocano cotton, Chinese silk and beads, Spanish silk, Ilongo cloth, Mindanao beads, Zamboanga and Yakan hand-woven cloth and sequins; Baguio ikat, Batanes cotton crochet, stitched, dyed; 150 x 150 in.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Pacita Abad Art Estate.

Photo credit: Chunkyo In

My Fear of Night Diving: Assaulting the Deep Sea (from the Underwater Wilderness Series); 1985; oil, acrylic paint, cotton yarn, broken glass, plastic buttons, beads; stitched, padded; 130 x 170 in.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Pacita Abad Art Estate.

Collection of the Lopez Museum and Library, Manila, Philippines.


Jane Ingram Allen is an installation artist who does art projects around the world. She uses hand papermaking with natural materials and collaborative processes to raise public awareness about environmental issues. She also writes about art, does independent curating, and teaches workshops in papermaking art.

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