SCAD presents Savannah legend Virginia Jackson Kiah’s work in 1st online exhibit


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — A local legend is being showcased in Savannah College of Art and Design’s (SCAD) first digital art exhibit.

It features artwork from the late Savannah painter, educator, museum founder and civil rights activist Virginia Jackson Kiah, Ph.D.

“Live Your Vision” offers viewers a wide range of Kiah’s work, from self-portraits to military portrayals and life drawings.

“Virginia Jackson Kiah believed in the power of creativity, imagination and dreaming to change the world,” SCAD Museum of Art Curator DJ Hellerman told WSAV NOW.

“Her artwork is an important record of what she cared about and paid attention to. Her collection of portraits show deep engagement with her community and her skill as a portrait painter,” he added.

Dr. Kiah worked to capture family, friends, celebrities and strangers. Hellerman says the exhibition reflects Kiah’s belief in humanity and the role of inspiration and creativity in envisioning our future.

“I hope this exhibition does what she wanted and inspires people to live their own vision and create the world they want to live in,” Hellerman said.

Kiah was a portrait painter and arts educator, but as a young artist, she was prohibited from entering museums and exhibiting her work because of racist practices.

In response, she was committed to creating spaces of open access. In 1959, just eight years after moving to Savannah, she opened the Kiah Museum as a “museum for the masses.”

Kiah donated her collection to SCAD so future generations could be inspired to “live their vision.” SCAD created the digital exhibition so Kiah’s work could be accessible to everyone.

“Anybody in the world can access this exhibition online,” he added. “We have not only her artwork that’s grouped into different themed categories, but we also have a timeline of some of some of the really important milestones in Kiah’s life.”

Kiah was focused on creating a positive and accepting environment for students at SCAD to learn.

In 1986, SCAD awarded her an honorary doctorate of humanities. A year later, she was appointed to the SCAD Board of Trustees where she would serve until 1997. She also created the Kiah Painting Endowed Scholarship, which is still active today.

In 1993, honoring Kiah’s lifelong dedication to creating equity in the arts and support for emerging artists, SCAD renamed a prominent Museum of Art building in her honor.

That same year, Kiah donated a selection of her paintings and drawings to the museum. In her donation letter, she explained, “It is my desire that the Kiah collection serves as an inspiration to future artists so that they, too, may live their vision.”

“Live Your Vision: An Online Exhibition” is on view now at the SCAD Museum of Art website.

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