Xenia is a photographic response to the 2009 investigation of Women Religious in the Catholic Church and my experience of growing up with Religious Sisters as my teachers, surrogate mothers, and mentors.
I grew up Catholic. Religious sisters, those educated women living without the dependency of men, influenced me more than any other group outside my family. They educated my mother and they educated six of her seven children. Mom would often invite her friends who were religious sisters to our home when I was a young girl. They were perplexing those nuns in the modified habit wearing various colors of white, black, gray, or light blue. And what was this vowed life? When I was in college and studying abroad in Rome, our “house moms” also happened to be religious sisters. By that time the women religious I knew were dressed in everyday clothes. They looked like any other person, only simpler—polyester simpler. After returning from Europe, I remained connected to these women on campus running the halls of their motherhouse learning all the back passageways connecting the convents and the infirmary. During my senior year, I lived in community with four Holy Cross sisters and one other student. So it came as no surprise that when the Vatican began it’s investigation of U.S. women religious in January 2009, I, along with many other Catholics, felt disbelief and anger.
Xenia is made in response to that investigation and my experience of growing up with women religious as my teachers, surrogate mothers, and mentors. Included in this work are photographic portraits of the aging women religious, women who were in community but left after the Second Vatican Council, and the changing nature of ministry in the contemporary world. In addition to these portraits is a photographic, still-life triptych referencing the long history between art and the Catholic Church. The triptych is a representation of the call to the table and toward mutuality. It depicts a movement towards ministry and hospitality as embodied by women religious communities post Vatican II. The warm colors, the unprepared fruit, figs, and cheese offer not just the notion of hospitality but a particular type of hospitality whereby there is no assumption by the host, but rather a freedom and respect of the stranger’s autonomy to prepare the food in his or her own way. The cracked open egg in the foreground, a Christian symbol of the resurrection and new life, accentuates this fact. This is hardly a banquet, but in it’s generosity, welcomes the stranger to the table with humility and an opportunity for reciprocal humility. Third, an installation piece modeled after a wooden prayer box used in convents of the past to pray for deceased sisters holds “take away” vigil candles. Lastly, I hand construct prayer cards made from linocuts and oil paint to create mono and ghost prints on paper referencing the mass-produced devotional or “holy” cards used throughout Church history. These prayer cards interpret my time with various congregations and their particular charisms. The work is meant to introduce and educate our contemporary society to the quiet humanitarian works of these courageous women through a public art practice.