Maria Gaspar

Maria Gaspar (lives and in Chicago) often works on site specific and community-based projects. For the last ten years, issues of mass incarceration and Cook County jail in Chicago, the largest single-site jail in the United States, have featured heavily in her art practice. Gaspar’s works draw attention to the widespread impacts of incarceration in U.S. life, even as the workings of the nation’s prisons, jails, and detention centers often remain invisible for many.

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On the Border of What is Formless and Monstrous

Image of a large concrete wall
On the Border of What Is Formless and Monstrous, 2016
Five-channel sound and video installation
Video: 14:52 minutes
Courtesy of the artist

This installation combines sound recordings made from inside and outside the Cook County Jail in Chicago, the largest single-site jail in the country, with a slow video pan of the jail wall. The seemingly endless expanse of gray cement is audibly punctuated by the joyful sounds of a carnival taking place on one side of the wall, the buzz and thuds of metal gates opening and closing, and snippets of conversation from inside the jail. In blending the sounds, Gaspar allows the imposing structure to become briefly permeable and invites the viewer to imagine the experience of living alongside such a structure. The work also draws attention to the often-overlooked but almost overwhelming scale and presence of incarceration in the United States, with 2.2 million people in 1,833 state prisons, 110 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,134 local jails, 218 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the US territories. In Gaspar’s words, “the carceral state is everywhere.”

On the Border Of What Is Formless And Monstrous (excerpt) from Maria Gaspar on Vimeo.



Portrait of Maria Gaspar

Maria Gaspar's projects have been supported by the Art for Justice Fund, the Robert Rauschenberg Artist as Activist Fellowship, the Creative Capital Award, the Joan Mitchell Emerging Artist Grant, and the Art Matters Foundation. Maria has received the Sor Juana Women of Achievement Award in Art and Activism from the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Chamberlain Award for Social Practice from the Headlands Center for the Arts. Gaspar has lectured and exhibited extensively at venues including the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; the African American Museum, Philadelphia, PA; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. She is an Assistant Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, holds an MFA in Studio Arts from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.

Suggested Reading

  1. Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands = La Frontera: The New Mestiza. First edition. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987.
  2. Browne, Simone. Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.
  3. Davis, Angela Y. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories, 2003.
  4. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th anniversary ed. New York: Continuum, 2000.
  5. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press, 2007.