Filsoofi is an assistant professor of ceramics at Vanderbilt University. | "Bite" by Raheleh Filsoofi/courtesy The Gibbes Museum of Art

The Gibbes Museum of Art announced Raheleh Filsoofi as its 2023 winner of the Gibbes Museum of Art’s annual Society 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art, an annual award recognizing the highest level of artistic achievement in any media.

Filsoofi describes herself as “a collector of soil and sound, an itinerant artist, feminist curator and community service advocate.” Her interdisciplinary practice investigates the literal and figurative contexts of land, ownership, immigration and borders. 


“I am honored and humbled to receive the Society 1858 Prize,” Filsoofi said. “This award expands opportunities for my practice, connects me with other communities, highlights my work in the contemporary art scene and provides a forum for my Iranian and Middle Eastern community’s voice. Middle Eastern women are woefully underrepresented in the art world. This award brings acknowledgement that our works and contributions are recognized and valued.”

Each year, the Gibbes Museum of Art awards $10,000 to an artist whose work contributes to a new understanding of art in the South.

An Iranian native, Filsoofi said that her multimedia installations are deeply rooted in her cultural background and invite onlookers to delve into her personal recollections of sense, sound and place.

Her work utilizes socio-political statements as a point of departure, and further challenges these arguments by incorporating both ancient and contemporary media, such as ceramics, poetry, ambient sound and video. 

“My works have been a response to the rapidly changing socio-political debates around the world and their relative expansive influences on human conditions,” Filsoofi said. 

In addition to the monetary award, the winner, in tandem with the curatorial team at the Gibbes, selects a piece to display in the Gibbes’ modern and contemporary gallery throughout the year. 

Filsoofi installed her work, Imagined Boundaries, last week at the Gibbes. She said it is an ongoing artistic project she began in 2017. 

“This work attempts to put a lens on boundaries that exist at all levels: locally, nationally and globally,” Filsoofi said. “Through the many phases of this project I, as artist and immigrant, have continued to question the myriad divisions which exist between us.” 

As part of the celebration of the prize and its winner, the Gibbes hosts the annual Amy P. Coy Forum, a panel discussion and lecture with the award recipient. 

Filsoofi said that this will be an emotional talk for her. 

“This will be my first art talk in a few months and since the uprising in Iran, so it will be very emotional for me … I am so happy and honored for this award, yet my heart and soul are suffering for what is happening back home.

“Currently, my home country of Iran is in turmoil with unrest and protests. Since Sept. 13 when Zhina Amini was killed by Iran’s morality police for her un-Islamic head cover, Iranians have filled the streets seeking justice. More than 500 civilians have been killed in these protests or executed in prison. In spirit with the protestors, members of the Iranian diaspora, are seeking spaces to bring global attention to what is happening in Iran: the struggles, the resistance, the bravery.”

Filsoofi said she is excited to collaborate with the Gibbes because of the crucial role that museums play in supporting activist artists.

“Artmaking with social and political content has the power to raise questions, engage and evoke responses and stand as evidence and artifacts of a historical period,” Filsoofi said. “Museums can play a crucial role in supporting activist artists from diverse diasporas and giving space to our art, to our truths.”

The Gibbes Museum of Art will host the
Amy P. Coy Forum from noon to 2 p.m. Feb. 10. Tickets are $45 for Gibbes Museum members and $55 for non-members. To register, visit

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