By Hannah E. Jones
When Georgia-based visual artist Victoria Dugger received a call from South Arts about her application, she thought she’d forgotten some paperwork. Instead, they were naming her as a 2023 fellow for its Southern Prize and State Fellowship program.
South Arts is an Atlanta-based organization that supports artists and provides cultural enrichment within the South. Now in its seventh year, the program was created to provide funding opportunities for visual artists in the South. Through this initiative, South Arts shines a spotlight on artists who tell stories of the South, including its beauty and hardships.
“We know that the arts are a vehicle of how we have understood our past, how we make sense of our present and, I would dare say, how we will teach generations ahead of us about who we are and what we value, what was important to us and what wasn’t, how we cared about one another and how we didn’t,” South Arts Vice President of Programs Joy Young, PhD, said.
The fellowship was awarded to one artist in each of the nine states that South Arts serves, with 855 applications pouring in this year. Through this program, each recipient will receive $5,000 to use at their discretion.
“We hear the adage ‘starving artists,’ and we want to make sure that we’re not contributing to that narrative,” Young said. “If we value the work, then we must also acknowledge that value through the thing that makes life happen — and that’s just cold, hard cash.”
Their works will also be featured in a traveling exhibit, spending a few months in Biloxi, Miss., Columbus, Ga., Tallahassee, Fla., Baton Rouge, La. and Montgomery, Ala. This component is critical for helping artists get eyes on their work while also increasing local residents’ access to the arts.
Dugger’s art includes drawing, painting, mixed media and sculptures. She said her work has Southern Gothic themes mixed with notes of femininity, reflecting ideas of “girlhood and Black femininity in the South.”
“I’m still figuring out my artistic language,” Dugger said. “But, I think I really was able to tap into not trying to be anyone else or be what I think good, intellectual art is supposed to be, but really focus on what I like and what I want to say.”
Dugger has been an artist for most of her life. She played violin for about a decade but, right before college, decided to pivot to visual arts. In pursuit of a career in the arts, Dugger graduated from Columbus State University with an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Georgia.
Her art is unique, vibrant and striking. It encapsulates themes of her life and experiences as a Black disabled woman. Her twin brothers also make guest appearances through the double imagery that can be found in some of her pieces.
“I definitely want my work to be complex because I think a lot of times, women, Black people and disabled people — and I’m all three — are not seen as three-dimensional beings,” Dugger said. “I think we’re complex people, and I definitely want that to come across.”
Young describes Dugger’s work as a “visual symphony,” using different shapes, patterns and colors that all work in tandem to tell her story.
“[Her art] communicates dichotomies — happy and sad, strength and vulnerability,” Young said. “I think she brings her own voice, and she uses her experience as a way for a person looking at her work to see beyond face value.”
This summer, South Arts is hosting a ceremony to celebrate the nine fellowship awardees. The team will also announce the winner of the Southern Prize and the runner-up, who will receive $25,000 and $10,000, respectively. Both artists will take part in a two-week residency at The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences.
In the meantime, Dugger has a list of supplies — including a lot of glitter — that she has her eye on. “Never can have enough supplies,” she said with a laugh.
Victoria’s work is indeed a complex ‘visual symphony’ and her raw grace is unveiled each and every time I view and really see her exposed emotions via her paintings, sculptures and mixed media. You can’t un see great works of art. Victoria’s work is unforgettable and opens the dialogue between all of us.
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