Artist Sherrill Roland has been awarded the Center for Documentary Studies’ (CDS) 2018–19 Post-MFA Fellowship in the Documentary Arts.
The fellowship is part of CDS’s Documentary Diversity Project, a three-year pilot program whose goal is to build pathways for more people of color to engage with the documentary arts, to support their achievements, and to promote their work.
A native of Asheville, NC, who currently lives in Raleigh, Roland received a BFA in design and MFA in studio art from the University of North Carolina–Greensboro. As he describes his work, Roland “creates art that challenges ideas around controversial social and political constructs, and generates a safe space to process, question, and share.” He is the founder of the acclaimed Jumpsuit Project, intended to raise awareness of issues related to mass incarceration.
Roland’s work grew out of personal history: the ten months he spent in state prison on a wrongful conviction, just as he started his last year of graduate school in 2013. Based on new evidence, Roland was exonerated of all charges in 2015. Back in school, he wanted to provoke conversation on issues related to incarceration, including prejudice toward those incarcerated. For his MFA thesis project, he wore an orange jumpsuit every day and documented his interactions until his graduation in spring 2017.
Roland has shared the Jumpsuit Project around the country via speaking engagements at the University of Michigan Law School, Princeton University, and other educational institutions, and as a performance piece, most recently at LACE: Los Angeles, the Studio Museum of Harlem, and ARTSpace in Raleigh.
Now he plans to expand on the work begun with the Jumpsuit Project, hoping to continue the conversation about mass incarceration’s social costs and push for more institutional awareness and change, particularly around the impact of systemic racism on the over-representation of black and brown people in the prison population. “I believe these issues affect everyone and should be received both voluntarily (art institution) and non-voluntarily (on the street),” Roland says.