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 the construction of individual and cultural identity; the rites of passage and liminal stage of "the process of becoming" (as someone takes on a new social role); and public and private performances within a heterotopia. She has been particularly interested in the lives of women in primary oral cultures and enclosed communities.
Abbie is author of the nationally-acclaimed Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns (Oxford University Press, 2014) and filmmaker of the internationally award-winning collaborative documentary film, Chosen (Custody of the Eyes).
She received a Master of Fine Arts degree in visual arts from the University of Chicago (2013) and was a fellow at the University of Chicago Center in Paris (2017). The Embassy of Switzerland in the United States awarded Abbie a ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship; she spent three months in residence at the University of Bern Institute of Social Anthropology (2013). She was a Fellow at Columbia University’s Oral History Research Office Summer Institute (2008).
Abbie interned during college at Roll Call covering Capitol Hill alongside Senior Reporter Damon Chappie. After graduating with a B.A. degree in History (1999). she worked as a reporter for Gannett newspapers in Indiana and Illinois, and was editor of a weekly community newspaper in Illinois.
She volunteered for one year (2003-2004) in the Communications Department onboard the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship while it was docked in West Africa. A highlight was working as the media handler for a BBC news team, driving Reporter Robert Pigott and his cameraman by Land Rover from Freetown to Kono, the diamond mining district bordering Liberia, for TV and radio reports on the World Service and the Six O’clock News about the women’s health issue, vesico-vaginal fistula.
Upon returning to the States, Abbie was admitted to the University of Iowa’s Master of Fine Arts in Nonfiction Writing program and the Master of Science program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She deferred at both programs. In 2005, she began working with the Poor Clare Colettine nuns in Rockford, Illinois.
Part of a team of five selected for a Group Study Exchange with Rotary International, Abbie spent a month in Germany (2006).
Projects have included: Faces of West Africa, a traveling photographic exhibition (22 photographs); Untold Stories: Freeport’s African-American History, an oral history and photography traveling gallery exhibition and outdoor exhibition, with six eight-foot by four-foot photographic panels installed across the street from Debate Square, where Lincoln and Douglas debated and Douglas voiced his Freeport Doctrine – a compromise on slavery; and the traveling exhibition Erased from the Landscape: the Hidden Lives of Cloistered Nuns (40 photographs and a soundtrack album consisting of audio narratives from the oral history interviews).
Abbie has received funding from Harvard University’s Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America (2014) and the Illinois Arts Council (2011, 2009, 2007, 2006). She was an elected Advisory Counselor of the Luminarts Cultural Foundation Board, formerly known as the Cultural and Arts Foundation at the Union League Club of Chicago (2010-2015). She was a Panelist/Reviewer for the Illinois Arts Council's Individual Artist Support Initiative (2012). She was a Resident Artist in Photography at the Vermont Studio Center (2010).
At the University of Chicago, Abbie was the Arts Management Graduate Fellow at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts (2012-2013); she was a research assistant for Professor Hillary Chute, and assisted with the Comics: Philosophy and Practice Conference (2012); and she was the Artist’s Salon Assistant at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, preparing (and framing) Cartoonist/Artist-in-Residence Alison Bechdel’s work for exhibition (2012).
Abbie lives in New York City. Her retreat is a house, built in 1888, that she renovated in Northwest Illinois (10 minutes from the Mississippi River). She has traveled more than forty countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. She is a dual citizen of the United States and Luxembourg.