This series explores the metaphors and metonymies potentially evoked by the figure of the nun. Through the use of available visual representations of nuns, the works in this project investigate the historical and cultural meanings that attach to the nun and seek to complicate its traditional interpretations.
An extension of my academic study of the literary representation of nuns (Altered Habits: Reconstructing the Nun in Fiction, University Press of Florida, 2002), Habit revisits and expands aspects of the book’s original argument on the stereotypes of representations of nuns, and probes the possibilities afforded by using visual art to broaden the earlier critique.
Specifically, Habit appropriates a number of visual representations of the nun so plentifully available on-line, in print, and in other media, in order to re-cast and transform them. For example, in a number of paintings, images of mystic nuns originally painted in the early modern period are silk screened onto different grounds—linen, paper, etc.,–and then painted over, or assembled in different ways to create new visual representations that underscore the power of deliberate mis-readings (and/or the foregrounding of missed readings) for a feminist analysis. In other works, photographs sourced from early-modern convent art, present-day fashion advertisements, and book illustrations from different periods are assembled and painted over to emphasize both the instability of the symbol, and the feminist potential of exploring that instability. One other painting makes explicit the personal scope of this project by incorporating a photograph of me as a ten-year-old wearing a nun’s habit for the Catholic ritual of First Communion. In a few other pieces (3-D assemblages and installations), I explore the overlap of mystic love and human passion (in the series “Burning Love”), as well as the overlap of scholarship and art (in the series “Vocation”). The final piece, “Altar” (still in progress), literalizes the metaphors that underscore the whole project: the work notes for Altered Habits, as well as the pages from the book manuscript are transformed into small pellets that fill three hand-blown hour glasses, which are then installed on antique silver coasters, and over linen cloths.
Ultimately, Habit exemplifies the ways in which my scholarly and aesthetic concerns inform and expand each other, and emphasizes how personal identity both shapes and is transformed by this process.