Wrongfully incarcerated artist wins 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art

The Gibbes Museum of Art is proud to announce Sherrill Roland as the 2023 winner of the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art.

Characterizing his artistic concerns, according to a press release, Roland’s 2022 public art installation Due Innocence, patterned after a vintage optical exam, asks the question “what does your innocence look like to a local judge”.

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After spending 10 months in prison for a crime that he was later exonerated of, Roland returned to his artistic practice using only materials he had access to, or saw, while incarcerated. He will be awarded a $10,000 cash prize and recognized at the Society 1858 Amy P. Coy Forum, scheduled for Feb. 9, 2024, according to the press release.

“We’re proud to honor Sherrill and his work for imparting a first-hand understanding of the ramifications of the criminal justice system and how art can lead to healing,” Gibbes Museum of Art Executive Director Angela Mack said in a statement. “Established to honor a living artist whose work contributes to a new understanding of the arts in the South, the 1858 Prize has showcased 15 Southern artists.

“This year, we are honored to showcase Sherrill’s artistry and look forward to witnessing his continued contributions to the world of art,” she continued in her statement.

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The press release says Roland’s interdisciplinary practice deals with concepts of innocence, identity and community, reimagining their social and political implications in the context of the American criminal justice system. After being wrongfully incarcerated, he returned to his artistic practice, which he now uses as a vehicle for self-reflection and an outlet for emotional release.

Converting the haunting nuances of his experiences into drawings, sculptures, multimedia objects, performances and participatory activities, according to the press release, Roland continues to share his story and creates spaces for others to do the same, illuminating the invisible costs, damages and burdens of incarceration.

Using a limited material list, consisting of only the materials he could touch while incarcerated, Roland looks towards these reflections of the material reality as an incarnated subject. From the tracing of cinderblock grout lines to the anxieties brought upon by contraband items or the heightened paramount of commissary goods, according to the press release, his practice invites the viewer into an altered reality, characterized by constriction and the passing of time.

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The press release says Roland was born in 1984 in Asheville, NC, studied at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2018) and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (2009 and 2017). He has had solo exhibitions at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York City (2022) and the Maria & Alberto de la Cruz Gallery at Georgetown University in Washington, DC (2019), among others.

Established in 2007, the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art awards $10,000 to a living artist whose work contributes to a new understanding of the arts in the South, according to the press release. Honorable mentions in 2023 go to Carlie Trosclair and Hiromi Moneyhun.

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