FSA Spirituality and Art Retreat
Mepkin Abbey | Moncks Corner, South Carolina
Graciously sponsored by GladdeningLight
In October, FSA hosted a four-day gathering for an eclectic group of artists, curators, writers, theologians, musicians, and scholars working in the field of spirituality and contemporary art. Located in Charleston, SC, and on the breathtaking grounds of Mepkin Abbey, a nearby Trappist monastery, the program combined the camaraderie and discourse of an art forum with the serenity and introspection of a spiritual retreat to create immersive communal experiences exploring the intricate relationships between spirituality, the creative process, community building, and societal renewal. Curated by FSA directors Leeza Ahmady and Tyler Rollins, the sessions featured the premier of a significant new performance art iteration, a riveting music concert, and a series of artist-led workshops and discussions that tapped into the collective wisdom of the renowned participants to imagine the forging of new pathways for future collaborations between individuals, institutions, and communities working in related fields around the world.
Berlin-based performance artist Nezekat Ekici drew inspiration for her performance “Fragments of Hand Gestures” (at Foundation for Spirituality and the Arts’ Mepkin Abbey Retreat in SC, US, October 2023) from her research on the hand gestures of abbots depicted in the Gallery of Abbots at Schloss Corvey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Höxter, Germany. Ekici recreates religious hand gestures from these paintings, conveying piety towards God. She is seen meticulously washing her hands, drying them, and performing hand gestures, symbolizing humanity’s profound connection with nature and cross-religious significance of ritual cleansing in various faiths, including Abrahamic religions, Hinduism, Shintoism, and Buddhism.
First, artist-in-residence Graeme reflected on “The Purpose of the 21st Century Artist,” considering the varying responsibilities for the artist of faith. Elaborating on his personal Buddhist meditation practice, he led the group in a collective meditation on the Lotus Sutra chanting Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō, which loosely translates – “I am devoted to the law of the lotus” – a commitment to the transfiguration and enlightenment of all things.
Second, artist-in-residence Lanecia A. Rouse led a group exercise in lectio divina, an ancient Christian practice of reading of sacred texts in a contemplative manner; her current studio practice incorporates lectio divina with poetry selections. Leading the group in a lectio divina on American poet Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things,” she asked attendees to carefully listen to the poem being read aloud three times, and to respond by first focusing on a word or phrase, then either drawing something that reflects that word, or photographing something in nature that captured it.
Finally, FSA’s scholar-in-residence Hassa Vawda conducted a group exercise that he frequently utilizes in his sociological research with focus groups at Tate museums in London as well as religious communities and educational institutions. Asking the group to reflect on words that expressed religion, secularism, and art – he had the group post words on a wall on a spectrum from negative to positive and facilitate a discussion surrounding the group’s response. It was the first time ever in his research that he had no negative submissions related to art.
FSA Retreat Attendees
Graeme Mortimer Evelyn
Lanecia A. Rouse