By William Jenkins, Content Editor of Legacy Arts
An Interview with William Cordova
WJ: What influenced you in your career path?
WC: A combination of factors was essential in my development as a cultural practitioner. My practice is interdisciplinary and fluid. Constantly evolving. I started out with terrible grades in high school, only to worsen at Miami- Dade Community College (MDCC). I majored in Psychology and didn’t know how to study properly. I didn’t have the discipline to take college-level courses and was unable to focus properly in class. It took me 3 years to realize that I was pursuing a career that I didn’t have a passion for. I was afraid of pursuing my true passion, visual arts and writing, because most people lack examples of any kind of artist: dancers, musicians, visual artists, cinema, poets, etc. Society often shuns away from supporting these mediums for their loved ones, but we all benefit from these realities. My problem was that I bought into the misconception of what it means to be an artist. I was young and naive about many things but stayed in school. Eventually it was the fear of failing and becoming nothing that motivated me. I changed my major after 3 years and spent the next 2 1/2 years studying visual art at MDCC. I transferred to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and graduated with a BFA. I don’t regret the 6 years in community college. I think going through that process transformed me into a focused individual whose confidence evolved through personal accomplishments at the time. So I owned those good and bad experiences and see them as lessons learned.
WJ: What immediate reaction do you hear from people who view your art?
WC: I actually don’t expose myself much to situations where I would hear immediate reactions from people or the public. Like a writer or scientist, most of my practice requires a great deal of research and concentration — much alone time in order to focus and be productive. The results are unending — a great deal of revisions that constantly take place. Often, when I do an exhibit, there is a familiar context that I create in order for the public to have multiple entry points to my project. I also speak about my work in seminars to the general public, students, and children. I speak and focus on different themes within the same work because audiences are different.
WJ: How would you like your art to influence others? Students in particular? The general public? What legacy do you want to leave for your family and community?
WC: Art is a tool. Children use art to problem-solve all the time. They cannot articulate themselves very well, so they rely on art to convey their ideas and feelings. The problem is that we teach ourselves that art is only for children and not productive for adults. But that is also a misconception. Actually, art allows one to be and maintain a creative mind. Art allows one to problem solve by being creative in any situation. People who are often at the forefront of technology, medicine, and law are usually the most creative ones in those fields. It isn’t a coincidence. Mathematicians are constantly stimulating theories in their heads through geometric principals. Everyone has the potential to play a role in the direction of a collective, our society. Those who influence others most are often those who utilize their creativity the most. I speak a great deal to students from children to adults. I enjoy sharing ideas of overcoming odds because we all can relate to that at one time or another. I try and share information about sustainability and managing one’s life better with many young people who may not have access to this information. I am interested in preserving and building these things through interdisciplinary strategies that are inclusive for all and not limited to an art scene.
WJ: You mention art as a tool that children use all the time. What do you think we should do differently or more intentionally to let children not only express themselves through art but teach them that art is a problem solving tool they can use for a lifetime? How might we intentionally integrate art into education more for all ages?
WC: In order to make a constructive and long-lasting impact on society, our education system would have to be reevaluated — meaning our local, state, and national representative lawmakers would need to reassess their understanding of the arts, our cultural wealth, and it’s short- and long-term impact on society. Pointing to educational models that work around the world to achieve this restructuring would mean looking towards Uruguay, Qatar, Japan, Switzerland, Finland, New Zealand, and Barbados. The reason why the US cannot commit to such models is that it uses class and economic profit as a yardstick to distribute funding for public schools. Our society is conditioned to assume creativity and the arts as a hobby that has no economic asset. This status exists despite the fact that we live in a visual culture, urging us to constantly purchase more. Someone is making those creative decisions, and someone is also producing those artistic visuals. There is a contradiction and disconnect in how and why we produce and consume culture, but the fundamentals of capitalism as a system are never analyzed from within. I am very optimistic. We have to be much better equipped when reaching out to your youth. Utilizing the creative arts has to be a way of life. Looking at examples of cultural wealth rather than material wealth, defining those differences, and how one is achieved internally rather than externally will prompt young people to reconsider how they problem solve, define themselves, and use that creativity in all aspects of their lives.
WJ: How can we as a culture encourage children to follow their true passions more as you did?
WC: All change takes time. We have to not only see but also understand the benefits. Understanding those benefits is also a heavy task for any parent or family. Our society is conditioned to gage culture in terms of economic prosperity, and that can be very limiting. We need to see more examples of creative practitioners who transcend beyond the limits of economic, class, and race stereotypes. We have to cultivate culture and stimulate children from birth and not try focus so much on materiality or economic benefits, because then it becomes opportunistic and narrow-minded. There is no one plan to reach this goal, only strategies and examples from different sources to examine, which is the healthiest way. Finding inspiration from different people in different places, countries, and cultures makes one understand and be part of a larger world. It takes courage, creativity, and perspective to evolve and be happy.
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William Cordova is an interdisciplinary cultural practitioner born in Lima, Peru. William lives and works in Lima, Miami, and New York City. Cordova’s work addresses the metaphysics of space and time and how objects and perception changes when we move around in space. He received a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1996 and an MFA from Yale University in 2004. William Cordova has been an artist in residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem; American Academy in Berlin, Germany; Museum of Fine Art in Houston’s CORE program; Headlands Center for the Arts; Artpace; Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture; and LMCC among others. He has exhibited in the US, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. His work is in the public collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Yale University, New Haven, CT; Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru; Ellipse Foundation, Cascais; PAM Museum, Miami, FL; and La Casa de las Americas, Havana, Cuba. In 2017, Cordova was awarded the Michael Richards Artist Award by LMCC, NY and the Florida Prize by the Orlando Museum, Orlando, FL. Forthcoming solo exhibitions include Kuntur: Transmissions & Portals, Illinois State University, IL and his first career survey exhibition, Now’s the Time: Narratives of Southern Alchemy, Perez Art Museum, Miami, FL. Group shows include Pacha, Llaqta, Wasichay, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the 13th Havana Biennial, Havana, Cuba (2018). The images included with this interview are from a 2017 project at Galeria Livia Benavides 80M2, Barranco, Peru, focusing on the concept of constellations and how all cultures around the world intersect by these shared observations of similar celestial bodies with different names and mythological meanings.