Meet V.L. Cox

V.L. Cox is an artist who was born in Louisiana and raised in Arkansas. Guy Lancaster, Editor of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas, will host a Conversation with V.L. Cox, exploring art, her ancestors, and a look at how Arkansas is perceived in the north. We were able to get in touch with V.L. ahead of this discussion and wanted to share a taste of what the conversation might bring about.

Can you give us a brief background on how you came to be a Southern expat in New York?

Ha. I keep hearing that term a lot up here. I have discovered however that I’m not the only one. Surprisingly, half the people I have met in New York are expat/transplanted Southerners.

I returned to the South a few years ago after a national art tour and several years of travel, riding out the early days of COVID at my studio location at St. Joseph’s in North Little Rock. I was really tired and needed a place to recharge my batteries after years of addressing the White Supremacy movement that continues to surge beneath our feet.

It was during this time, the deadliest part of COVID, when certain members of the Arkansas Legislative Session met and passed every discriminatory bill we had fought so hard to defeat years before. The timing was unprecedented. Passing laws denying American Citizens basic services and obsessing over some kind of bizarre ‘underwear check for children’ and ‘bathroom police force’ when people in our state were literally suffocating to death and dying in droves, was insane (90% of the bathrooms in highly respected family owned restaurants here are unisex and no one thinks anything about it). When I realized the level of blatant, callous inhumanity that showed itself when citizens of our great state were hurt, scared and suffering tremendous losses, it really opened my eyes.

After traveling across the country, talking to hundreds of thousands of good people and realizing that with our crumbling roads, outdated rails, cracked bridges, failing infrastructure, rising river levels and violent weather due to climate change, this is what these temporary lawmakers are hell bent on focusing on? Low hanging fruit. These faux ‘Culture Wars’ are not real. They’re nothing more than a distraction and a way to keep us separate so a select few can hold on to power and financial gain. God bless the politicians that actually try to make a difference, but if that’s the level of greed, political laziness and cruelty the majority aspire to, so be it. I refuse to be a part of it. I’m not going to lie though. It was hard leaving the South. I’ve put a lot of time in there fighting these issues. It’s also who I am, it’s all I’ve ever known, and the BBQ is terrible up here. But I have been welcomed with open arms, gained a level of acceptance and freedom in New York like I’ve never had before, and it has taken my art to another level with endless creative opportunities. I am happy. You know it’s sad really. Arkansas is a beautiful state and I know the majority of people there have good hearts, but we could be so much more if politics were taken more seriously. Being cruel to people isn’t a game and should NEVER be some kind of rogue political platform.

What can people expect from your chat with Guy on March 28?

Oh, I’m sure we’re going to be talking a great deal about history, the South in general, the love and secrets of the Delta, White Supremacy, distilled spirits, food and art. I also would like to share that my story is nothing compared to some of the ones I’ve heard up here from other southern expat’s and I’ll be touching on those as well.

I saw you recently post a picture of McClards BBQ sauce sent to you in a care package. What food do you miss the most from Arkansas?

Oh Lord, I have had McClard’s BBQ sauce sent to me for years now on my travels. Some of my earliest memories as a child was sitting in a highchair in McClard’s restaurant, sucking on a BBQ rib as the adults poured bottled beer in short little water glasses. When your baby clothes smell like BBQ, it’s hard to shake that delicious memory from your soul. It’s been my absolute favorite for over 50 years now. I guess the only other thing I have missed up here is real homegrown tomatoes. You know I love urban farming and Arkansas has the best homegrown tomatoes on the planet. These are not quite there yet, and I’m sure it has to do with the lack of intense heat, but in all honesty, they make up for it with their apple crop in the Fall. Holy cow. I’ve never had apples this good in my life and the orchards are amazing. Acres and acres of fresh apples you can pick and on your way out, you can grab fresh hot apple cider and hot apple cider donuts. That being said though, I will definitely be making a trip back to Arkansas this summer to load up on some decent homegrown tomatoes, purple hull peas, and more McClard’s.

Your chat with Guy comes as we wrap up Women’s History Month; what kind of legacy do you hope to leave as a female artist?

I never really thought about it like that but I hope my work and efforts will be remembered as a simple southern woman who loathed injustice, stood up against it, and cared for the most vulnerable. The Bible Belt South has been relentless in suppressing minority voices, oftentimes cruelly to maintain White Supremacy and control, but it’s long overdue for people to finally say, “That’s enough. This is not ok.” When you stand up for what’s right, you are then giving other people the strength and opportunity to stand beside you. And stand they will. As a woman breaking out of that submissive role and demanding equality for all, I believe it creates a better world for everyone, including those that will follow in your footsteps long after you’re gone.

What are some of the recent projects you have worked on? Anything exciting?

Yes, my current exhibit ‘Watchfires’ which is showing at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and my upcoming exhibition with artist Stephen Mangum which will open at the Annex Gallery in the Pendleton Art Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, November 2022.

I was also contacted and photographed by an incredible Brooklyn, New York, photographer Grace Roselli to be included in a project called “Pandora’s BoxX Project. A celebration of women, trans and non-binary individuals whose art, actions, struggle and perseverance have reset and transformed our experience of the world; A unique living history and archive.” I am honored to have my portrait included with artists such as Renee Cox, Harmony Hammond, Renee Stout, Howardena Pindell, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.

There’s a lot more going on and now that spring is here (these winters last forever). I will be talking about that very soon, but the one thing I want to add is this: After all my years of travel I have seen more art than I could ever imagine, but I would put Arkansas artists up against any blue chip artist any day. The talent that comes from that state is mind boggling. Writers, filmmakers, fine artists, musicians, performing artists, craftsmen, makers, culinary Arts, I could go on. I am over 1,200 miles away, but I keep up with numerous Arkansas creators and their local, national, and international endeavors. I applaud their growth, talent, creativity, determination and most importantly their sacrifices and contributions. They will always have my respect and my support.

You can follow V.L. on her journey here, and sign up for her virtual conversation with Guy Lancaster on March 28 at 6:30 p.m. here.