Incarceration Altars

A project in partnership with the Irish Prisons Service and the City of Dublin Educational Training Board -

‘Incarceration Altars’ Gives A Rare Glimpse into a World Hidden away from Society.

Incarceration Altars was commissioned under Pathway 2 (Round 3) of ‘…the lives we live’1, Grangegorman Public Art. This pathway aims to support community-based projects and events and to increase local participation and engagement with life through the arts. Projects are chosen through an open call and by an independent panel of assessors.  For full information on all of the pathways go to

1: Extract from ‘Dreams of a Summer Night’, New Collected Poems (2011), by kind permission of the author, Derek Mahon, and The Gallery Press.


“’s sentimental attachment to objects is one of life’s greatest consolations.”
Orhan Pamuk, The Innocence of Objects. (2012)

‘Incarceration Altars’, is a collaboration between artist Bernie Masterson and residents of Mountjoy Prison Campus, where she investigates the relationship between person, place and object through a series of images and prisoners’ narratives.  

 The art project aims to contextualise the different worlds of prison identity and private identity. Objects provide links to those identities and are also used to reflect on other themes such as ‘mourning and memory,’ ‘transition and passage,’ ‘meditation and new vision,’ and how they serve as a marker in a significant life situation such as incarceration.

 Masterson has worked with the project participants for several months and the culmination of this work is in the form of an audio - visual display of prisoners own testimonies.

 Speaking about ‘Incarceration Altar’, the Chair of the Grangegorman Public Art Working Group, Prof. Ciarán Benson is quoted as saying  -

 “Being ‘inside’ is the euphemism for being in prison. Inside spaces are mostly small, enveloped, sometimes pushing against their walls, other times a refuge from all that is outside. What Bernie Masterson explores so astutely, and with such palpable sympathy and skilled restraint, in her ‘Incarceration Altars’ is how troubled – and sometimes troubling – people can fashion unique and deeply personal islands of meaning, fuelled by memory and imagination, from the tiny spaces to which they have been confined. In this memorable and moving project, she shows how self-in-space can visibly extend the person and create a humanised place, however spare.”


Dave’s Journal  | 2017 | 49”

Full Duration:  5' 19" - Format: Digital HD - Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - Sound: Stereo

Chang’s House | 2017 | 49”

Full Duration:  5' 10" - Format: Digital HD - Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - Sound: Stereo

Paulo Planes | 2017 | 2’ 04”

Full Duration:  9' 47" - Format: Digital HD - Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - Sound: Stereo

Robert’s Trainers | 2017 | 47”

Full Duration:  3' 33" - Format: Digital HD - Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - Sound: Stereo

Mark’s Guitar | 2017 | 46”

Full Duration:  9' 39" - Format: Digital HD - Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - Sound: Stereo


Screenings and Panel Discussions:

Incarceration Altars #3 ‘Open Mind’, The National Prisoners Exhibition, RUA RED Gallery (06-09-2019)

Incarceration Altars #3 Irish Short Reels Series, Contemporary Irish Arts Center Los Angeles, CIACLA  (22-08-2019)

Screening Incarceration Altars #3, 4, & 5 at the European Prison Education Association Conference, TU Dublin, (15-07-2019)

Incarceration Altars #3 Homeland ‘Of Memory’, LOOP Festival, Barcelona, Spain(22-11-2018)

Incarceration Altars #3 Homeland ‘Of Memory’, Damer House Gallery, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary (11-08-2018)

Five channel screening, Irish Prison Education Association Conference, Irish Prison Service College, Portlaoise (06-07- 2018)

Five channel screening, Grangegorman Public Art Per Cent Project, DIT, Dublin (12-10-2017)

Selected Works

The Longest NightProject type

Last DanceProject type

FlightProject type

Strange FishProject type

Incarceration AltarsProject type

The Art of WritingProject type

WeatherProject type

InvocationProject type

Drawing on the BodyProject type