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Women in the Arts: Meet Victoria Dugger, Winner of the 2023 SouthArts Prize for Visual Art

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

This installment of Women in the Arts takes us behind-the-scenes into the life of Columbus native and award-winning artist Victoria Dugger.

Dugger's practice spans painting, mixed media works, and sculpture. Working across these forms, she produces objects that blur accepted categories, exploring novel modes of self-expression and embodiment. She dissects her identity as a Black, disabled woman through a blend of playful compositions and grotesque imagery.

Dugger received her MFA in Painting at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia. The artist had her debut New York solo show "Out of Body" with Sargent’s Daughters in July 2021, which was featured on Vogue, Hyperallergic, artnet, ARTnews, Whitehot Magazine, and artdaily. She is represented by Sargent’s Daughters, and was recently named the winner of the 2023 SouthArts Prize for Visual Art.

Read on to learn all about Dugger's background, her view on being a woman in the arts, and where you can see her work in Columbus, Georgia next year.

Q: Please share about your background with us. How did you get into the visual arts?

A: One of my paternal uncles was a professional artist and lived and worked in Hawaii for the remainder of his life so I exposed to art as a career very early on. I actually played the violin for ten years and then decided to pivot into art my senior year of high school where I attended Shaw High. I got more and more into art and realized my passion for art was growing that is when I decided to pursue it at CSU.

Q: What was your time like in Columbus? Who were the main influences in your life here? What were some notable professors or local artists you connected with?

A: I was born in Ft. Benning since both of my parents were in the military. My mom was born and raised in Columbus so we moved back here when I was 4-5 years old from Alexandria, Louisiana, where my dad is from. Just a little background, I was paralyzed at the age of 3 due to a scoliosis corrective surgery, and that was a tough time for my entire family, they have been and still are my rock. They have always been so supportive of me and they are a huge influence in my work. I love being from Columbus. I think what people don’t realized is that there are some amazing artists that were born and raised here, including Alma Thomas, Bo Bartlett, and Amy Sherald as well the writer Carson McCullers, so there is a lot of inspiration and artistic excellence coming out of Columbus. My professors from the Art Department at Columbus State University, where I received my BFA, were and still are incredibly integral to my growth as an artist. Just to name a few; my mentor Hannah Israel, my painting professor, Orion Wertz, Michael McFalls, as well as the rest of the art department faculty really believed in me as a person first and an artist second. Their continued support, knowledge, and guidance has really shaped who I am as an artist.

Q: What informs your work? Can you share a little about your process with us?

A: My work is centered around my identity, personal history, disability, and girlhood. There are a lot of ups and downs of being a disabled black woman in today’s society so my work is focused on sharing the playful aspect of the human condition as well as the sides we try to shy away from. I think often disabled people and black women are portrayed very two-dimensionally, so the goal of my work is bring complexity and empathy to these “stereotypes.” My process often involves a general idea, and I branch out from there. I then consider the materials I want to use and which would be best to communicate the concept. My paintings and sculptures are adorned with pearls, paint, synthetic hair, and glitter to describe scenes or bodily forms. There is an inherit push and pull between the beautiful and the grotesque, playful and serious in my work that I consider as I approach each new piece.

Q: You've just won the 2023 SouthArts Visual Arts Southern Prize. What does receiving this award mean to you?

A: I am grateful that my work and story are being recognized on such a large platform. It is often that someone like me may fade into the background or isn’t represented in the lager art world. Also there were so many amazing artists in this year’s cohort so I was quite surprised to win. The work that South Arts does in supporting artists from this region is so important in insuring that we have the resources and support to continue making work.

Q: What does being a woman in the arts mean to you?

A: I think more than ever there is a real opportunity for women to command a platform and attention for the work that we are making in our lifetime. There are unique challenges to being a woman in the arts, as well as in life in general but I am truly grateful for the women that have paved the way for people like me. As a southern black disabled women I feel there is a profound responsibility for me to continue to support other women and chip away at that glass ceiling.

Q: What else would you like our audience to know about you, your work, or your future plans?

A: The South Arts Southern Prize Exhibition is traveling throughout the Southeast and will be shown at the Bo Bartlett Center in Columbus this coming spring!


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