Born in 1989, New York, New York; Lives and works in Oxford, United Kingdom
What is a complete vessel? What is a complete body within performance? I see being a cyborg as using anything mechanical to enhance one’s life – even just a pottery wheel. — Shawanda Corbett
Visual and performance artist Shawanda Corbett’s multifaceted practice spans ceramics, visual art, dance, film, and performance. Her work explores the question of what is a “complete body”, looking at the different cycles of a human’s life through cyborg theory. Corbett uses her perspective as a woman of color with a disability to root theory into reality. Cyborg theory envisions breaking down the distinction between organic and synthetic, human and animal, physical and non-physical, pointing to a post or transhuman chimera that utilizes technology to subvert patriarchal, capitalist, and essentialized systems, categories, and lives. “We all use something mechanical,” Corbett says, “Computers, electronic mechanisms—it’s all cyborg theory.”
For To the Fields of Lilac, her first solo exhibition in the United States at Salon 94 in 2022, Corbett has produced a series of ceramic vessels of different heights, shapes, leans and glazes with violet hues. “I named the show To the Fields of Lilac to signal a continuation or a further narrative that thinks about what happens beyond ‘Wade in the Water’, the spiritual originally sung by slaves on their quest for freedom and thinking about how water became a signifier for protection for the enslaved on their road to freedom,” she said recently. “But what does it mean to actually be free? Are we really absolutely free in a capitalist, neoliberal society we find ourselves?” Alongside these sculptural objects are twenty joyous abstract paintings translating memories of childhood through a form of non-verbal storytelling expressed as vivid colors and thick black lines, shapes, and forms.
Corbett’s previous solo exhibition, Neighbourhood Garden, held at the Corvi-Mora Gallery in London in June 2020, featured similar paintings and mostly paired ceramics that evoked the neighborhoods and denizens of her childhood in New York City and Mississippi. Recent group exhibitions include Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art at Two Temple Place in London; CRIP TIME at the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt; Both Sides of Here: Artistic Encounters at the Threshold at The Courtauld Institute of Art in London; the Drawing Biennial 2021 at Drawing Room in London; and in Friends and Friends of Friends at the Schlossmuseum in Linz, Austria.
Corbett’s performances include breathe. at NOW Gallery in London; haar wese at University of Oxford in Oxford, UK; and Evocation of Buked at Deptford X in London. In Blackbird in Mississippi for COS x Serpentine Park Nights at the Serpentine Galleries in 2019, Corbett presented various stages of African American culture in the American South and drew parallels between a slave’s voyages on the underground railroad to Corbett’s own journey for rehabilitation. Corbett’s practice of decorating her face and body with clay or paint, evident in Blackbird in Mississippi and in a series of photographic self-portraits are inspired by the Gospel mime tradition of face painting in Black churches in the American South.
Forthcoming projects include a solo exhibition at Tate Britain as part of its “Art Now” program and a wordless, dance-based eight-act film inspired by Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadisches Ballett in which Corbett and other performers explore elements of the Black experience wearing wearable architecture.
Born 1989 in New York, Corbett spent much of her life in Mississippi. Currently, she is pursuing her practice-led doctoral degree in Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Art and Wadham College, University of Oxford, England. Her work is represented in the collections of The Fitzwilliam Museum, The Harris, and The Arts Council Collection, all in the UK. Corbett was awarded the Turner Bursary from the Tate in 2021 and The Kleinwort Hambros Emerging Artist Prize in 2021. She lives and works in Oxford, England.
Salon 94 joins Corvi-Mora, London in representing Corbett’s work internationally.
UK Crafts Council