10 Questions with Artist Shawanda Corbett Ahead of Her Performance At The COS x Serpentine Park Nights

In some ways, being an emerging artist has never been easier. More so than ever before, there are ways of putting yourself out there without necessarily interacting with the status quo. You don’t need the backing of a big gallery or a renowned art critic at your opening – there is enough space (both physical and digital) for everyone to show their work. However, this all-access approach can also cause high levels of saturation, with talented individuals struggling to separate themselves from the pack. Taking both sides of the story on board, Serpentine Galleries have been growing a platform for new art since 2002. Experimental, interdisciplinary, multimedia –  the Serpentine Park Nights are the artsy version of the outdoors summer cinemas. In the heart of Hyde Park and throughout the whole season, eight international artists will have an opportunity to present their practice on one Friday night. For the seventh year, Serpentine are teaming up with COS on hosting the event which has previously seen the likes of Telfar Clemens, Wolfgang Clemens and Ai Weiwei. This year’s Serpentine pavilion was designed by award-winning architect Junya Ishigami and will serve as the backdrop for the performances and installations. Precious Okoyomon, Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Shawanda Corbett, Kiko Kostadinov, Klein, Leilah Weinraub, 1010 Benja SL and Cecilia Vicuña are all on the line-up for the 2019 Serpentine Park Nights. While Okomoyon and Kudsk Steensen already gave their all, the next one on the bill is Shawanda Corbett.

Hailing from the deep south of Mississippi but currently based in Oxford (where she is doing a PhD), Corbett’s interdisciplinary practice combines contemporary ceramic techniques and cyborg theory, questioning the idea of a complete human body. Born without legs and one arm, she uses her perspective as a disabled woman of colour through movement and dance. The upcoming performance at the Serpentine Park Nights is Blackbird in Mississippi, which draws parallels between a slave’s voyages on the underground railroad and her own journey for rehabilitation. For this occasion, she collaborated with choreographer Albert Corbett who enabled her to respond to the performance space through a live inner dialogue. What can we expect on next Friday, July 26th? “Privilege of movement, evolution of music, and moments of silence,” she tells us. Ahead of the upcoming show, we asked Corbett 10 questions which will allow you to get the know the person behind the art. 

Dino Bonacic: When did you realise you were an artist?

Shawanda Corbett: I have always felt a purpose in the arts, but what confirmed that purpose to me was when I did a commissioned performance for Deptford X [last year]. I do my best to try to connect with everyone on a human level, but it is a humbling experience to get the opportunity to connect with other people of colour.

DB: Where do you find your inspiration?

SC: I find inspiration in music (jazz, blues, and classical), early 20th Century African American dance theatre and dancers, theatre performances, films, challenge my perspective through dialogue with people in all walks of life, and staying present in reality.

DB: What’s the one song that will always get you dancing?

SC: I’ll Take You There by The Staple Singers

DB: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

SC: Get to know who you are, both good and bad. This advice is very simple but it is significant at any stage of your life. Morals change and perspectives change all the time, so it is important to know what that is.

DB: What’s the best part about being an American living in UK?

SC: There are more variety of opportunities for early career artists.

DB: If you could change anything about the world, what would it be?

SC: The level of empathy we all have for one another.

DB: If you were to reenact the famous pottery scene in Ghost, who would you love to do it with?

SC: Lupita Nyong’o, because it would not be that serious. I imagine it would definitely be comical.

DB: How do you describe your practice?

SC: My practice is an extension of my personality.

SC: Early in the morning or late at night? 

SC: I will have to say both for different reasons. Early in the morning, my mind is clear and I am most relaxed to work on the pottery wheel and write. Late at night, I am clearing my mind with dancing and working on performances.

DB: What’s the best film you’ve seen in the past year?

SC: Suspiria, the 2018 remake.

Shawanda Corbett’s performance ‘Blackbird in Mississippi’ will take place at the Serpentine Pavilion on July 26th. Book tickets online.


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