forms by Tanya Melendez-Escalante

Returning to Her Roots

by Ivana Cepeda ’10

An MFIT curator plans an exhibition in Mexico

As senior curator of education and public programs at The Museum at FIT, Tanya Melendez-Escalante ’04 connects exhibition curators and fashion designers to create dynamic learning experiences. For a recent exhibition at the Museo de Arte de Zapopan (MAZ) in Guadalajara, Mexico, though, she seized the opportunity to curate the show herself.

Meléndez dressing mannequins for the show.
Meléndez dressing
mannequins for the show.
Photo by Itzel Hernández/
courtesy of MAZ

Her show, Julia y Renata: Moda y Transformacion (Julia y Renata: Fashion and Transformation), tells the story of Julia and Renata Franco, Guadalajara-born sisters and designers of the label Julia y Renata, which plays with silhouettes and shapes, structure and drape. Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico, is a creative hub—home to architects, designers, musicians, painters, and curators.

Melendez-Escalante has admired the Franco sisters’ avant-garde, feminist approach for a long time. “They believe you can wear what you want and determine what is sexy and what is not,” she says. “They have been very influential for other young Mexican designers.” 

To capture their artistry, garments were displayed flat on the walls, like paintings. The exhibition, which ran from November 6, 2020, to February 14, 2021, was organized and designed entirely by women—which Melendez-Escalante calls “a happy coincidence,” indicative of the growing number of women in leadership positions across industries.

Tanya-Melendez Escalante Exhibition
Renata Franco, Julia Franco, and Tanya Melendez-Escalante.
Photo by Itzel Hernández/courtesy of MAZ

The collaboration came about in 2019, after Melendez-Escalante, a native of Mexico City, interviewed the Francos as part of a panel discussion. MAZ Museum Director Vivianna Kuri proposed that Melendez-Escalante curate an exhibition about Julia y Renata.

“In my current role at MFIT, I hadn’t done installation in a really long time,” Melendez-Escalante says. “I forgot how much I loved it, being able to touch garments and be hands-on.”

Mounting an exhibition in a pandemic presented many challenges. Garment selection was done through Zoom, and garments on loan could be accepted only from local lenders and collectors, as they feared that pieces could not be shipped in time. While Melendez-Escalante oversaw the final stages of the installation in Guadalajara, a curfew severely limited the hours the team could work. Everything shut down at 7 pm, and people couldn’t leave their homes at all on the weekends.

Pieces from the exhibition.

Melendez-Escalante’s perspective remains consistent across her work as an educator and an exhibition curator. “I am always thinking about the person who is new to the subject matter as well as the scholar. You want to educate, inform, and delight. It is important to give everyone points of entry, make the content accessible, giving people interesting bits that spark their curiosity and make them want more.

Featured photo (top): Forms and materials from the exhibition.