Monastic Silence and a Visual Dialogue

Oct 23, 2014
Film Studies Center, Cobb 307
5811 S Ellis Ave.
Chicago, IL 60637
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Abbie ReeseIndependent

A book talk and screening of documentary film-in-progress with Abbie Reese

cosponsored by the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and Calvert House

Abbie Reese will share the process entailed in a long-term oral history and visual arts project that is the basis for her recent book, Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns (Oxford University Press, 2014) and her documentary film in-progress, Chosen (Custody of the Eyes).

Set within the insular realm of the Corpus Christi Monastery, Chosen (Custody of the Eyes) is a collaborative ethnographic and documentary film in-progress that emerges from research starting in 2005 and an ongoing relationship with members of the Poor Clare Colettine nuns.Chosen will form a filmic portrait of a young woman in the liminal phase, evolving from “Heather” (a blogger, painter, and graphic design student) to a new identity within a cloistered order. Now renamed, “Sister Amata” is in the process of becoming; she is assimilating into the community and the enclosure, a 25,000-square foot monastery on fourteen-acre gated premises.

One of the strictest religious orders in existence, Poor Clare Colettine nuns follow an 800-year-old religious rule. Family members of the nuns are allowed up to four visits each year; they are always separated by the metal grille. This strict separation from the outside world serves a purpose: As cloistered contemplatives, the nuns intervene on behalf of humanity, observing the Liturgy of the Hours seven times a day and awaking at midnight to pray while the world sleeps. The nuns strive to become saints and “mothers of souls.” The enclosure –– rather than restricting them –– offers freedom; the metal grille keeps the world out.

Abbie will play audio clips from the oral history interviews, shows still photographs she made within the enclosure, and shares clips from the film-in-progress. For more information on the film-in-progress, visit this website.

You can read a write up on her book in the New Yorker HERE.

Abbie Reese is an independent scholar and interdisciplinary artist. In her relationship- and research-based practice, she utilizes a hybrid of oral history, documentary, and ethnographic methodologies to explore individual and cultural identity – the construction of new identities and the performance of social roles. She holds an MFA in visual arts from the University of Chicago and has been a research fellow at Columbia University’s Oral History Research Office Summer Institute and the University of Bern’s Institute of Social Anthropology. Her projects have included: Faces of West Africa, a traveling photographic exhibition;Untold Stories: Freeport’s African American History, and oral history and photography traveling gallery and outdoor exhibition; and the traveling exhibition Erased from the Landscape: the Hidden Lives of Cloistered Nuns (40 phtographs and a sountrack album consisting of audio narratives from the oral history interviews).