North Carolina Artist Sherrill Roland Wins Southern Prize

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Atlanta – Multidisciplinary artist Sherrill Roland of Morrisville, North Carolina was awarded the 2020 Southern Prize by South Arts. Roland, whose powerful work is deeply influenced by a three-year period of wrongful incarceration, received a $25,000 cash award and a two-week residency at The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences. Alabama artist Carlton Nell, whose meditative drawings using silver on film explore the abstractness of the natural world, received the Southern Prize Finalist award of $10,000. The awards were announced in a ceremony held online on May 18, 2020.

Roland and Nell were among the nine South Arts State Fellowship recipients honored by South Arts, each of whom received a $5,000 award in March 2020. An exhibition of all nine artists’ work is anticipated to open at the Bo Bartlett Center in Columbus, Georgia in August 2020.

Meet Sherrill Roland, 2020 Southern Prize Winner

Meet Carlton Nell, 2020 Southern Prize Finalist

Meet all the 2020 State Fellows

The South Arts State Fellowships are juried, state-specific competitive awards to visual artists representing the nine states served by South Arts. The 2020 State Fellowship award recipients are:

  • Carlton Nell. Opelika, Alabama. Drawing.
  • Alba Triana. Miami, Florida. Experimental.
  • Fahamu Pecou. Decatur, Georgia. Painting.
  • Letitia Quesenberry. Louisville, Kentucky. Multidisciplinary.
  • Karen Ocker. New Orleans, Louisiana. Painting.
  • Ashleigh Coleman. Jackson, Mississippi. Photography.
  • Sherrill Roland. Morrisville, North Carolina. Multidisciplinary.
  • Kristi Ryba. Charleston, South Carolina. Painting.
  • Bill Steber. Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Photography.

“More than ever, South Arts is proud to support the artists in our region,” said executive director Susie Surkamer. “Artists such as Sherrill Roland interpret and tackle some of the most pressing issues facing society. Before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital to ensure that artists have the resources to work and thrive in our region.”

Launched in 2017, the Southern Prize and State Fellowships celebrate and support the highest quality artistic work being created in the South. Hundreds of visual artists submitted work for consideration, and a national panel of jurors reviewed the applications through the lens of artistic excellence representing the diversity of the region. A second national panel of jurors reviewed the State Fellows to determine the Southern Prize winner and finalist. Each panel is conducted blind, with the applicants’ identities withheld from the jurors.

The State Fellowship jurors were Ndubuisi C. Ezeluomba of the New Orleans Museum of Art, Edward Hayes, Jr. of The McNay Art Museum, independent art historian and consultant David Houston, and Marilyn Zapf of the Center for Craft. The Southern Prize jurors were Pradeep Dalal of Creative Capital, Grace Deveney of Prospect New Orleans, and former executive director of Penland School of Crafts Jean W. McLaughlin.

Visual artists living in South Arts’ nine-state region and producing crafts, drawing, experimental, painting, photography, sculpture, mixed media, and multidisciplinary work were eligible to apply. The awards are presented to the artists as unrestricted funds. To view the 2020 Southern Prize and State Fellows’ submissions and learn more about the competition, visit


About South Arts

South Arts advances Southern vitality through the arts. The nonprofit regional arts organization was founded in 1975 to build on the South’s unique heritage and enhance the public value of the arts. South Arts’ work responds to the arts environment and cultural trends with a regional perspective. South Arts offers an annual portfolio of activities designed to support the success of artists and arts providers in the South, address the needs of Southern communities through impactful arts-based programs, and celebrate the excellence, innovation, value and power of the arts of the South. For more information, visit

About the Artists


Carlton Nell. Drawing. Opelika, Alabama.
2020 South Arts Alabama Fellow and Southern Prize Finalist

Carlton Nell’s painting and drawings have been exhibited in museums and galleries across the country and are included in many public and private collections. He is a professor at Auburn University and lives in Opelika, Alabama where he maintains a studio. He is represented by Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York, and Thomas Deans Fine Art in Atlanta.

Artist Statement:

These silver drawings are part of on-going work expressing thoughts that originate from direct observation of immediate visual surroundings. My interest is how abstract visual properties — shape, tone, pattern, scale, etc. — form a framework for seeing the world. By using these properties as a prism with which to view and suspend the observed world, my hope is that it leads to a deeper experience of it. 


Alba Triana. Experimental. Miami, Florida.
2020 South Arts Florida Fellow

Colombian composer/sound artist Alba Triana is known for a hybrid musical production that explores the interface between natural science, art and technology, materializing in nonconventional and varied formats ranging from experimental concert music, interactive installations, sound and light sculptures to vibrational objects.

Alba’s work has been showcased internationally in over a dozen of countries in Europe, Latin America and the U.S., winning prizes, grants and residencies including the highly prestigious Civitella Ranieri Fellowship. She has received commissions, residences, and grants from world-class institutions and ensembles such as the Kronos Quartet, American Composers Forum, ArtCenter/South Florida (USA), GMEB (France), ProHelvetia (Switzerland). Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs holds her work as part of its High Quality Cultural Portfolio.

Artist Statement:

My work emerges from a deep interest in how nature intrinsically operates. Universal laws of chance, natural behaviors and phenomena, and fundamental modes of operation frame my approach to art/music making. This is why I engage creative methods that are holistic, complex, and multidimensional. Thus, my oeuvre crosses the boundaries of a diverse set of fields.

My artistic production is hybrid and takes a variety of forms, including interactive musical installations, resonating spaces, sound and light sculptures, and vibrational objects. These pieces, expressed in both space and time, are heard, walked through, and seen.

Especially in the past 10 years, the fields of the sonic and the visual have become unified in my work. In that time, I have experimented with the properties and behaviors of different types of waves, and the resonance phenomena in acoustic spaces and physical bodies that emit sound and/or light.

As in the universe, my artworks tend to be self-generating and evolving. Statistics and probabilities are used to set the conditions that define the identity and functioning of different parameters in a work. This allows for an infinite amount of outcomes that can be determined and controlled.

By promoting a meditative contemplation of nature at a micro, intangible level, my goal is to induce a state of awe, and a feeling of communion with an integrated wholeness that is active, interconnected, and unified, provoking a profound identification with the essential elements that animate and connect us.


Fahamu Pecou. Painting. Decatur, Georgia.
2020 South Arts Georgia Fellow

Fahamu received his BFA at the Atlanta College of Art in 1997 and a Ph.D. from Emory University in 2018. Dr. Pecou exhibits his art worldwide in addition to lectures and speaking engagements at colleges and universities. As an educator, Dr. Pecou has developed (ad)Vantage Point, a narrative-based arts curriculum focused on Black male youth.

Pecou’s work is featured in noted private and public national and international collections including; Smithsonian National Museum of African American Art and Culture, Societe Generale (Paris), Nasher Museum at Duke University, The High Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Seattle Art Museum, Paul R. Jones Collection, Clark Atlanta University Art Collection and Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia.

Pecou was recently named the inaugural Artist-in-Residence for the Atlanta Beltline. In 2017 he was the subject of a retrospective exhibition “Miroirs de l’Homme” in Paris, France. His work also appears in several films and television shows including; Black-ishThe Chi, and Lifetime’s The 10th Date.

Artist Statement:

Through paintings, drawings and performance-based work, I work to complicate various images and representations that inform perceptions of Black male masculinity. By engaging the various stereotypes and misconceptions about Black men — both those imposed and those assumed — I attempt a critical intervention concerning our collective understandings of Black identity.

In staged photo shoots and performances, I embody stereotypes about Black males as a way of exploring and subverting them. Subsequently, I engage these stylized images in dramatic paintings and drawings, often incorporating various expressions of the African diaspora which includes the visual iconography of Yoruba (Ifa) spirituality, the somatic attitude of hip-hop bravado, and philosophy of the négritude movement.

In mining the Black experience across time and place, I can dynamically engage my themes with works that despite being rooted in the Black experience, provide meaningful engagement and insights across all walks of life.


Letitia Quesenberry. Multidisciplinary. Louisville, Kentucky.
2020 South Arts Kentucky Fellow

Letitia Quesenberry lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati. Through the play of material, process, surface and technology, her work surveys the boundaries of visual perception. Recent solo and group exhibitions include 57W57Arts New York, NY; Pieter PASD, Los Angeles, CA; Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, NY; Quappi Projects / 21C Museums / KMAC / Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY. She is the recipient of grants from Great Meadows Foundation, the Al Smith Fellowship and the Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellowship.

Artist Statement:

Hypnotic bewilderment.

Attempts at structure in the face of explicit uncertainty.

To me, the clamor for constant decisive action invites a contrast of more subtle encounters. I use abstract filters, color and light as a means to activate the boundaries of optical experience. My creative efforts focus on the limitations of memory and questions about perception. These concerns involve the cultivation of an aesthetic inscrutability, a kind of visual veiling that destabilizes visibility. To this end, I work with drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, text and light. I combine semitransparent materials like tinted resin, color correction film, beeswax, sanded plexiglass with reflective or opaque materials like fluorescent paint, mica dust, coal slag.

Several concurrent series reveal my recent observations of space, color, and light. Using LEDs, I build geometric boxes and room-sized installations where layered concentric bands of color film change hue in an unpredictable motion. The combination of semi-opaque layers illuminated by slowly changing lights creates a pulsing visual effect. Shapes and colors advance and recede in an endless hypnotic loop.

The BLSH series takes the form of the light boxes but instead uses reflected color and depth rather than light itself for an overall more subdued effect. Other ongoing series use the visual structure of SX70 Polaroids as a jumping off point. My labor-intensive process involves building dimensional frames to house layers of specific material elements. Squares bounded by rectangles contain recurrent shapes, patterns and symbols; an imagined architecture for ephemerality, desire, loss.


Karen Ocker. Painting. New Orleans, Louisiana.
2020 South Arts Louisiana Fellow

Karen Ocker is an award-winning New Orleans artist. Her work has been included in exhibits at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center, CANO, McKenna Museum of African American Art and A.I.R. Gallery, New York. Her work has appeared in Day for Night, the 2006 Whitney Museum Biennial Catalog, two covers of Offbeat Magazine’s “Jazz Fest Bible,” an All-State NBA Allstar weekend promotion, and in the recently released Netflix  feature film Tall Girl. Her work can be found in collections throughout the United States and Europe, including the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, Memphis Blues Hall of Fame, and Luciano Benetton’s imago mundi collection in Italy.

Artist Statement:

My working medium is directly influenced by my grandmother, who introduced me to painting as a small child. The floods that followed Hurricane Katrina were the pivotal moment that changed my trajectory. I abandoned working as a graphic designer, and began painting full time. It felt like the world had ended. I had nothing to lose. My materials are influenced by the new tools that I learned to use rebuilding my flooded home and materials amassed from debris piles. My work gives new life and beauty to things others have discarded. This series of paintings pays tribute to the music, history, magic and indomitable spirit of this place, even in the face of devastation, tragedy or loss.


Ashleigh Coleman. Photography. Jackson, Mississippi.
2020 South Arts Mississippi Fellow

Ashleigh Coleman is a self-taught photographer. As she susses out where she lives and what is required of her as a mother, Ashleigh looks through the lens of an inherited Hasselblad.

In the meantime, her photographs have exhibited across the United States, including solo shows at the Fischer Galleries in Jackson, MS, the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, and the Claire Elizabeth Gallery in New Orleans. Her work has also been shown at the Griffin Museum of Photography, the University of West Virginia, the University of Southern Mississippi, and is currently part of Looking for Appalachia’s traveling exhibition. She is a founding member of Due South Co.

Ashleigh lives on the land of her husband’s family in rural Mississippi.

Artist Statement:

What if I slowly discovered I am not who I thought I would be as a woman, as a mother?  What if “[t]he evidence of my life lay before me, and I was unconvinced.” (Leif Enger)

The reality is that every day mishaps feel shocking. Noise threatens to unglue. Baking rarely occurs. I am terrified of being used up, of losing myself, of not actually knowing what coherent adult thoughts feel or sound like anymore.

These are glimpses into a woman coming to terms with the quotidian mystery of motherhood, into staking out joy in the chaos—outside, looking in; inside, looking in—into learning to be here.  By capturing the collision between childishness and adult expectations a dim path is illuminated through the Sisyphean mess.  Perspective charges the horizon: maybe not in that exact second, maybe a month or two later—they are growing; destructive curiosity mellowing, possibly.

For now, it’ll do.


Sherrill Roland. Multidisciplinary. Morrisville, North Carolina.
2020 South Arts North Carolina Fellow and Southern Prize Winner

Sherrill Roland was born in Asheville, North Carolina. He received both his BFA in Design and MFA in Studio Art from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Sherrill is an interdisciplinary artist and the founder of The Jumpsuit Project. His Socially Engaged Art project has been presented at Open Engagement Chicago, Oakland City Hall and the Michigan School of Law. Recent exhibitions include CAM Houston, LACE: Los Angeles and Studio Museum of Harlem. He was recently an Artist-In-Residence at the McColl Center of Art + Innovation in Charlotte, NC and a Rights of Return USA Fellow.

Artist Statement:

The perception of innocence, identity, and community can dictate our access to basic human rights.

My interdisciplinary practice addresses the complex construction of these three core entities: innocence, identity, and community; and reimagines their social and political implications in the context of the American criminal justice system.

For more than three years, I was forced to relinquish control of my life to the criminal justice system due to wrongful incarceration. After spending ten months in jail for a crime I was exonerated for, I looked to art as a vehicle for self-reflection and an outlet for emotional release. I began a year-long performance at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro in which I wore an orange jumpsuit every day until graduation. The Jumpsuit Project challenges audiences to address their prejudices about the jumpsuit, my body, and the issues surrounding incarceration. The work reshapes the narrative of the incarcerated and provides support for those most impacted. By sharing my story, and creating a space for others to share, I work to illuminate the invisible costs, damages, and burdens of incarceration.

As I migrate through traditional and non-traditional art spaces, I recognize the need to expand the conversation surrounding incarceration. Recent work incorporates the voices of the formerly incarcerated, increases the access of audiences to current resources, and provides new forms of content through performance, sculpture, drawing, and community workshops.


Kristi Ryba. Painting. Charleston, South Carolina.
2020 South Arts South Carolina Fellow

Kristi Ryba enchants viewers with her narrative works as she combines the elaborate skill of handmade egg tempera painting with subjects that explore contemporary events and messages of morality. Museum visitors will experience the different stages of a painting; how the artist lays out the composition, prepares the painting supports, grinds the pigment, and applies gold leaf to envelop the final piece in regalia.

Kristi Ryba holds an MFA from Vermont College, Montpelier, VT and most recently won 2nd place in the esteemed annual visual art competition ArtFields (2018). The artist is represented by Corrigan Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina and is in numerous private collections including the Medical University of South Carolina.

Artist Statement:

Over the last several years, my interest in the study of Medieval and Renaissance art has informed my work. This series of paintings is taken from images from centuries ago and serve as a vehicle to simplify an urgent message by providing the symbolic and instructional imagery to illustrate and illuminate the leadership crisis we are in. All the gold, elaborate surroundings and messages of morality and ethics corresponded with what is happening in our government; the gutting of our social safety net and health care, eliminating environmental protections, the lack of restraint in spending money on personal enrichment and pleasure and the build-up of military spending and deficit in international diplomacy to name a few.


Bill Steber. Photography. Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
2020 South Arts Tennessee Fellow

Bill Steber has documented blues culture in Mississippi for the last 20 years, chronicling the state’s blues musicians, juke joints, churches, river baptisms, hoodoo practitioners, traditional farming methods, folk traditions and other significant traditions that gave birth to or influenced the blues. The work is gathered in his exhibit “Stones in my Pathway” as well as in the pages of Living Blues magazine and other publications.

Steber, a native of Centerville, TN, was a staff photojournalist for the Tennessean in Nashville from 1989-2004, winning dozens of regional and national awards while shooting everything from national politics to New York runway fashion and the Super Bowl.

His latest passion is exploring 21st Century American culture through the use of 19th century wet plate photography, including tintypes, ambrotypes and glass negatives.

In addition to his photography, Steber makes music with The Jake Leg Stompers, the Hoodoo Men, The Jericho Road Show and The Worried Minds.

Artist Statement:

My father first put a camera in my hand when I was 10 years old, an act from which I’ve never recovered. I’ve been documenting the South for most of my life: its people, its landscape, its traditions, its surprising beauty and its maddening contradictions. Vernacular culture is born of poverty mixed with genius, and the South has plenty of both to spare. It is the pursuit, preservation and celebration of that culture that drives my own creativity.

I come from a family that regarded creativity as something as natural as breathing. My own personal expression found voice in my love of photography, discovering that I could engage in the world in real time, in ways that engaged my subconscious and made me feel alive and connected.

Since 2005, I have been pursuing the use of 19th Century collodion wetplate photography for my Southern documentary work, discovering that the patience required for the difficult fieldwork and long exposures bring out in the subjects a deeper essence. Though cloaked in the visual artifice of an earlier time, I find that these tintypes and ambrotypes speak to themes that make the South unique, namely, connection to history, family, and the land. Or, as William Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

I draw great inspiration from the South, from the people, the stories, the landscape, the sad and beautiful history, but mostly, from the aspirations of those who love it as it is and seek to make it better.