In the early 70s Jean Sousa was a performance artist and studied dance at the Boston Conservatory. She moved to Chicago in 1974 and became the first graduate student in Performance at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. While at the SAIC, access to the Film Department resources, and film history classes with Stan Brakhage, shifted her interest toward making films. She continued to use performance in her films, and frequently performed for the camera. Sousa's work reveals a concern with both the physical properties of the medium as well as an interest in the narrative possibilities of cinema.
In the mid-eighties, she began her career in museum education at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she developed family and community programs and interactive exhibitions. She continued her studio work but shifted from moving to still images and developed a body of work in photography. She has since left the AIC and has begun making films again in digital format.
Sousa's films have been shown nationally and internationally at the National Film Theater in London, the Image Forum Cinematheque in Tokyo, the Funnel in Toronto, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Cinematheque in San Francisco, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Millennium, and Anthology Film Archives in New York, among other venues. Her work has been included in numerous festivals, including the International Festival of Avant-Garde Film in London, the Festival international de jeune cinema in Paris, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Big Muddy Film Festival, and the Onion City Film Festival in Chicago where she received 1st Prize for her film "Spent Moments." She is the recipient of two Artist Fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council and a Regional Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional awards include a residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Cliff Dwellers Fellowship for Artist Residency at Ragdale, and a Professional Artist in Residence at Oxbow in Saugatuck, Michigan. She was a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome in 2014. Ms. Sousa has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the MIT Summer Institute for Film, Photography, and Video at Hampshire College.
"...Jean Sousa's films are struggles. They grapple with the unseen, the inarticulate, and the mysterious - the heart's blood that boils beneath the surface. However, Sousa structures her anomalous worlds, her anger, and her sense of disjointedness with coolness and precision. Layers of bravura optical printing, radiant Moholy-Nagy-style graphics, severe camera angles, clean editing, and light tamed window frames, doorways or the shear force of camera movement create a tight, archly didactic effect. Robert Creely once remarked of Charles Olson that the poet seemed to be "looking for a language." Sousa is looking for a language too, but not in the conventional sense. She searches for the communication that lies in spaces, in tensions, and in those lapsed areas twixt thought and voice."
Wendy Brabner, Spiral, 1984
"I was really unprepared for the beauty and sensuousness of your work and for how impressive they would be in digital format... Your films remain vibrant and contemporary yet resonate powerfully with techniques and concerns that hark back at times to the work of Deren and Brakhage, Sharits and Ken Jacobs.
I particularly enjoyed SWISH and would love to see it projected big. SUMMER MEDLEY is very painterly and reminded me a bit of Kubelka's ADEBAR in your mix of bold abstraction and tribal music. I loved the choreographic effect you achieve with the score in THE CIRCUS as well as the film's vivid hues. TODAY IS SUNDAY has a timeless monochromatic look (Deren, Bergman) and the spare musical accompaniment really worked for me. It has some of your most beautiful imagery...."
Bruce Jenkins, 2010
Author and Professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
"Since their beginning, experimental films have fallen into two general categories. One category consists of films that concentrate on the graphic manipulation of images. Artists who work in the category, such as Oskar Fischinger, Robert Breer and Hans Richter, approached cinema as an opportunity to make moving paintings. But other artists, such as Luis Bunuel, Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger, found in film the capacity to evoke the dream state. Rather than being interested in film's surface, these latter artists were concerned with its translucency, its combination of real motion with phantom apparitions. Jean Sousa, a Chicago filmmaker, makes films which combine these two poles. She engages in a painterly reworking of film texture, while also creating an otherworldly, somnambulant atmosphere."
Christine Tamblyn, 1976