Emerging Artist Prize Winner: Shawanda Corbett


Shawanda Corbett is currently studying her doctorate in Fine Art at Oxford University. She was nominated for the KH Emerging Art Prize and emerged as one of our three winners. Her practice is a combination of pottery and performance. We interviewed her to hear about her journey as a creative and the ideas that lie behind her work.

What was the inspiration behind the work that you submitted for the KH Emerging Art Prize? 

“My practice and research is all in Artificial Intelligence. Within this I do a lot in approaching the idea of empathy. I talk about life from my perspective, what I have witnessed and experience and what I experience now.”

“There is already a lot of exposure of Artificial Intelligence outside of my work, so I am not looking to expose it but rather reintroduce empathy within things that are not seen or talked about. What I mean by this is that Artificial Intelligence takes into account all the material we look at, read and search, and continues to push us content which supports our ways of thinking to reconfirm our thoughts and beliefs. What we end up reading isn’t necessarily reflective of the truth however, it shapes our perception of reality. This then affects our ability to empathise as we end up within echo-chambers as A.I. pushes us virtually towards people who believe and think similarly to ourselves. Even the people who “go off the grid” and don’t have social media, still have indirect effects of A.I. through our social circles and relatives. 
So, remembering empathy within the topic of Artificial Intelligence becomes incredibly important. My work seeks to capture what it is to be human, what it means to be complete, what it means to be functioning in society.”

With Covid-19 being such a global event, has your work sought to respond to the pandemic?

“Much like Artificial Intelligence, my work reflects the world around it. Depending on the context, it takes on new shapes and new meanings and each time you come back to it, it is possible to see something different. 

I did a performance last year, called Breathe. This was an idea developed back in 2019 and aimed to look at something that was so foundational to our existence, something that we all need and unites us all. However, with Covid and The Black Lives Matter movement, it took on a different personality. There was exposure surrounding police brutality or even how the media can present different ethnic groups. These were all perfect examples of lack of empathy. Even the pandemic was first publicised as something that would only affect the sick, disabled and elderly. This served to ostrasize these groups of people, that was only negated once we realized the pandemic was also affecting active healthy people.”

You mentioned The Black Lives Matter movement and how it enabled your work to take on a different personality. How has the topic of systemic racial injustice shaped your work? 

“The work that I have done has always been influenced by my experience as an African America, both overtly and covertly. However, what is new is that racial abuse has not always been broadcasted or talked about. The Black Lives Matter movement has definitely inspired me to really think about how I am presenting my work and how I am connecting with other people. I am not necessarily interested in talking about the events, but rather I am interested in the people who have been affected by the events, either directly or indirectly.”

Why did you chose the medium of pottery and performance to express your ideas?

"My background is in ceramics. Whilst, I didn’t have any intention of bringing this skill with me when I came to the UK for my masters in 2016, I had a tutor who recognised my skill and challenged me to incorporate it into my practice. As for performance, my minor in the US was in theatre and I love to perform. The link was then created between the two mediums in the way I saw how pottery was used to record theatrical performances in greek ceramics. 

However, I particularly love performance because it demands you to be your most authentic self. It is incredibly vulnerable, however it was only in picking up the practice did I realise how much vulnerability was demanded. There is also an added complexity when you add a group of performers. Each actor and musician has their own story to tell, however in order to produce art you need to work symbiotically to make it happen. It’s about being on the same page, even if the page is in different books.”

As one of the three winners of  the KH Emerging Artist Prize, what direction are you looking to take your work in the future? 

“I always try to move my work and practice forward, although it is hard to predict what direction it is going in. Right now, I am working on a film with musicians, so it will be a dance/ theatre performance film. I love Oscar Schlemmer and it has been inspired by his performance ballet. I am working with musicians and exploring the musical range of instruments, learning their unorthodox abilities, much like in jazz. The film is about love, but not the kind of love you would think. It asks the question of how we can love people who don’t like us, hate us or who we don’t even know.