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Award-winning artist explores vulnerability

Award-winning artist explores vulnerability

A performance artist/choreographer whose work explores universal themes of human vulnerability has won three prestigious awards.

Suzanne Cowan, a doctoral student in the Dance Studies Programme at the University of Auckland has been awarded the June Opie Fellowship, the Ian Campbell Scholarship, and an AMP National Scholarship in recognition of her research and work in the fields of contemporary dance and disability.

At twenty-two years old, Suzanne was ‘catapulted into vulnerability’ following a car accident in which she lost of the use of her legs. In Canada on a Student Abroad Programme at the time, she was initially completely immobilised – including being unable to speak.

The experience broadened her perspective and set her off in a new direction. Having worked as a journalist when she first left school, Suzanne, who uses a wheelchair, finished a BA in history and a diploma in film and TV before working as a director/reporter for three years on Attitude TV – a show featuring the lives of people with disabilities.

During this time she went to see a show by the Touch Compass Dance Company whose performances include dancers with and without disability. Suzanne, who had learned dance as a child, was enthralled. She enrolled for a workshop and the following year joined the company for a season, becoming a professional dancer.

She was then offered a fulltime role as a dancer and assistant teacher with the London-based CandoCo Dance Company, travelling the world for three and half years, performing in 24 countries. She says “it was an incredible time and I got to visit the most amazing places, but more and more I wanted to start making my own work and explore further what it meant to be a dancer with a disability.”

On her return to New Zealand Suzanne started a Masters degree in Dance Studies at the University of Auckland, where she was awarded first class honours.

Suzanne has now started her PhD and her thesis topic is concerned with the spectacle of difference, through the lens of an artist with a disability. She plans to focus on the relationship of vulnerability to disability and sexuality.

“I want to keep making art that is accessible to everyone – using themes around disability to reveal universal concerns. As we age we all become impaired to some extent. That is the nature of mortality. I’m really interested in how society marginalises impaired people. I want to raise questions about the assumptions we make and value we place on different people. And disability is a good lens to look at global themes of vulnerability, “ she says.

Suzanne will present a new work later this month at the Performance Arcade series as part of the New Zealand Festival Visual Arts programme in Wellington. Housed in a shipping container the piece entitled Pharmakos is about the fetishisation of vulnerability. Her choreography will include the art of shibari rope tying.

26 February - 3 March 2014
Wellington waterfront


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