Maria Gaspar has attained a unique set of skills through her time in direct community engagement. As a socially involved artist, she has years of teaching in her tool belt, both in her neighborhood and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. A position that requires you to respond to a wide variety of potential hiccups, whether that be different artistic levels of collaborators or technical failure. Gaspar, who has been invited to participate in the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) located in the Loop’s Chicago Cultural Center, spoke with us regarding limitations, strengths and showcasing her work as a whole for the first time.
The CAB’s curators approached Gaspar about presenting the past years of her work in the exhibition. A great portion of her art from the past seven years has been done in collaboration with men at the Cook County Jail. In her most recent project, “Radioactive: Stories from Beyond the Wall,” Gaspar had to grapple with Carceral Space. Her artistic location is a jail. With that comes a bevy of legal precedent, making sure that certain topics were firmly avoided while curating a platform that gives inmates the ability to tell their tale. Her response to this quandary, was to reclaim abstraction, “an art form a lot of POC and women feel they don’t have access to, and going to a place we feel we don’t belong.” Using the surreal and magical realism to translate and embody experiences.
Gaspar is from an immigrant community and the first to attend college in her family. Her art comes from a place of passion, and a need for practical resources. The way we can source those is by uplifting and telling the stories of one another. As Gaspar says, “there are multiple pathways to get to a single idea.” Her goal is to translate the “texture of a space.” The CAB installation involves audio and video from past work, partnered with artifacts, to be sure that her installation in the Cultural Center is pervaded with a sense of humanness. Gaspar uses community as a strong pillar to make sure that she is upholding every voice, but in the end as an artist, she must make certain aesthetic decisions to capture an audience’s attention. Exhibiting the work at the Chicago Architecture Biennial presents limitations. The artist has had to talk to the curators regarding the height of her installation, and programming conflicts for performances Gaspar has proposed. No matter the presentation, Gaspar will examine the “brutalness of borders,” encouraging people to examine how space inhibits, encourages, or perverts how humans interact with one another. As well as ourselves. For Gaspar, it’s time to turn an eye to Radical Histories, mining the past and being actively involved in the present, to encourage change and revolution.