Gianna Paniagua, the recipient of a heart transplant at the age of 14 months and now 23 years old, won the coveted $20,000 Grand Prize in the 2014 VSA Emerging Young Artists Program.
VSA is the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability program that gives a voice and visibility to the work of talented young artists living with disabilities who are ages 16 to 25. Their work is exhibited throughout the United States and the world as examples of the art, history, and culture of America.
Titled “The Journey,” this year’s exhibition challenged the artists to create work exploring their personal journeys as they live with a disability. The 15 winners received cash prizes totaling $60,000 and were brought, all expenses paid, to Washington, D.C. to meet with highly regarded visual arts professionals, and visit galleries and museums, and explore the possibility of pursuing careers in the arts.
Gianna, a 2013 University of Pittsburgh graduate, says that her past and present experiences as a transplant recipient have her seeing the body as fragile instead of the traditional symbol of vigor. In her artwork, she places her emphasis on the physical, delicate nature of the body and its abilities for healing. She considers each material, especially paper, to be its own ‘body’ and susceptible to growth and decay just as we are.
Gianna maintains a close relationship with her amazingly supportive transplant teams who celebrate her birthdays with gifts and balloons, and her primary transplant doctors even attend her art openings.
To read more about Gianna, check out this interview on the University of Pittsburg Art Department website: http://www.studioarts.pitt.edu/person/gianna-paniagua