A photo of an animal skull on a white table with white and beige fabric. Next to the skull are pomegranates and a flower.

Five VCU student artists are among the VMFA Visual Arts Fellows for 2023-24

A photo by Sydney Harrison, highlighting the theme of life and death. (Courtesy: Sydney Harrison)
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Using touch to evoke memories. Highlighting Black people in fashion. Exploring life and death. These are some of the themes featured in the works of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts students who are 2023-24 recipients of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Visual Arts Fellowship.

The VMFA has awarded nearly $6 million in fellowships to more than 1,500 Virginia artists since the fellowship program began in 1940. It supports both professional and student artists who demonstrate exceptional work in their fields.

In addition to five VCU students who received 2023-24 fellowships, three professional fellows have VCU ties: alumnus Sandy Williams IV, who received an MFA in Sculpture + Extended Media from VCUarts; Vivian Chu, an adjunct professor in the Department of Craft/Material Studies; and Eleanor Thorp, an adjunct instructor in the Department of Painting + Printmaking.

VCUarts has maintained strong connections with the VMFA for several decades, said Carmenita Higginbotham, Ph.D., dean of the School of the Arts.

“For many years, VCUarts has been fortunate to enjoy a close and dynamic relationship with the VMFA, which provides enormous benefit to the Richmond region, the commonwealth and the arts world in general,” Higginbotham said. “The VMFA has been, and continues to be, a powerful teaching and research resource for our students and faculty.”

Here are the 2023-24 VMFA student fellows from VCU:

Stephanie Germosen

First-year MFA student
Department of Sculpture + Extended Media

Germosen, who hails from New York, calls her work “skins of experience,” referring to memories.

An image of a woman leaning against a desk in an art studio.
Stephanie Germosen in the studio. (Credit: Aida Lizalde)

“I have a great inventory of objects that have been passed down to me from family members or friends,” she said. “Touch is such an important thing to me. It’s in each of my core memories of growing up and wanting to re-create the way tile feels beneath my feet or how certain fabric and curtains or a dining tablecloth felt against my arms. It’s all about the tactility of it.”

Germosen began teaching an introduction to sculpture for non-art majors at VCU last semester. On the first day of class, students bring an object to work on throughout the semester. She not only has them make molds or casts out of them, but she has them write about the objects as well.

“I think language plays a big part in expanding on that memory and seeing what it can become,” Germosen said. “It can transform into something that is no longer an immaterial thing but a tactile thing.”

An image of a table with something cream covering the top
A sculpture from Stephanie Germosen’s installation titled, "play with me softly." (Courtesy: Stephanie Germosen)

Laneecia Ricks

Department of Photography + Film

Ricks’ photography journey began as a junior in high school while exploring film.

A portrait of a person wearing a zip up fleece jacket.
Laneecia Ricks. (Courtesy: Laneecia Ricks)

“When I got my camera I was like, ‘Well, in order for me to learn video, I have to learn photography, too,’” Ricks said. “It just kind of stuck. I pretty much kept photography and focused on that versus video.”

Her photos are lively, transforming the subjects into an animated world.

“My main style is conceptual fashion editorial work that focuses on Black subjects,” Ricks said. “I have a deeper connection with that and with them. I really like colors. I really like contrast and shadows.”

Ricks’ style earned her the role as a photographer for VCU Athletics.

“I was brought on the team to bring this different creative side because I know fashion and how it works,” Ricks said. “I try to get shots that you wouldn’t normally see or get.”

A woman wearing a black and white outfit modeling on a concrete staircase
A photo from one of Laneecia Ricks' collections, showcasing what she describes as “conceptual fashion editorial work that focuses on Black subjects.” (Courtesy: Laneecia Ricks)

Nadia Msalek

Department of Painting + Printmaking

Msalek’s paintings are filled with Islamic tile art in vibrant colors. The medium is popular in Morocco, where her father is from – and where including people in paintings is taboo.

A woman sitting with a laptop on her lap, leaning her head in her right hand
Nadia Msalek. (Credit: Ryan McCarthy)

“You're not supposed to paint figures because it kind of flattens them and it reduces them to an image,” she said. “So a lot of the art there … they just focus on color and shape, which I find really fascinating.”

This has led Msalek to create a series of paintings that merge human figures from the French orientalist period with the tile art. “I’ve been either concealing or cutting away the shapes to make these geometric patterns so they are kind of given back their agency in the language of art that they know,” she said.

The VMFA fellowship validates her work, Msalek said. “It’s really nice to be recognized because I feel like in my field it’s really easy to get imposter syndrome. Just to know there are people out there who think my art is worth money is really exciting.”

A painting on a piece of glass.
A painting by Nadia Msalek, titled “The Private Female Interior.” (Courtesy: Nadia Msalek)

Sydney Harrison

Department of Photography + Film

Harrison was inspired to major in photography after taking a class during her sophomore year of high school.

A still life scene with plans and dead octopus.
A still life by Sydney Harrison, one of five VCU students to earn VMFA fellowships for 2023-24. (Courtesy: Sydney Harrison)

“My photo teacher, Madison Fairburn, also went to VCUarts, and she convinced me to go to college and study photography,” Harrison said. “I started out using it as a way to capture things, mostly in nature, and started creating my own stories using models, clothing and the environment.”

This led to her signature style, which explores life and death.

“I tend to explore the beauty in the broken and appreciate new life from decay,” Harrison said. “Taking inspiration from my own childhood fantasies as well as fairy tales and fables is how I incorporate these elements into my own work.”

She allowed herself to be free when choosing photos for her fellowship submission but stayed true to her style.

“There were a range of different images in the portfolio I submitted, but each image had either an ethereal or odd touch to each one that I feel makes my work unique,” Harrison said.

Walker Moore

Department of Photography + Film

Moore has worked on and created promotional content, short films, music videos and documentaries. While he has explored many styles, he describes his work as traditional.

A portrait of a man from the shoulders up.
Walker Moore. (Courtesy)

“I think real stories and real characters and just good movies is what reaches me as an audience,” Moore said.

His fellowship submissions included “On My Mind,” a winner this year of the James River Film Society’s 28th James River Short Film Showcase and a recipient of the People’s Choice Award. The film is about a woman dealing with the grief of losing her father while moving his belongings out of his house.

Inspired by summers in Powhatan County at a farmhouse (where the film was shot), Moore chose his mother to play the actress in the film.

“The house was built by my great-grandfather, whom I never met but my mom grew up with,” Moore said. “I often felt connected to him through the house and things he owned that were still there.”

The time spent on set came with interesting situations. “I don’t know if I believe it or not, but there were also times when lights would turn on or you would hear noises,” he said. “As I grew, I came to a deeper understanding of death, and the film was definitely me trying to understand it more.”

A woman sitting at a piano. IN front of her is a painting of and eagle flying next to a cliff.
A still from Walker Moore’s short film, “On My Mind.” (Courtesy: Walker Moore)