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A hopeful message in the wake of disaster

ADDENDUM: Special message from Emily Corbató ’62

On April 15, in the process of preparing this story, my beloved Boston was attacked by two young and gravely misguided terrorists. They chose to defile our prized Boston Marathon on Patriot’s Day, our special state holiday celebrating our history, traditions, and the pivotal role Boston played in the birth of American democracy. Our city stood united, law enforcement was exemplary, and people came together to help and care for the injured victims as all grieved for those senselessly killed by the explosions at the Marathon finish line. Our exhibit, “Unquiet World,” spoke of “the rebuilding of place and spirit with hope of forgiveness and determination.” May time give us courage to understand this tragedy and weave its memory into the vast mesh that defines the greatness of our land.

“Unquiet World” illustrates destruction and restoration, with message of hope

It may seem paradoxical that Emily Corbató ’62 derived inspiration from the tranquil beauty of her cottage on Plum Island, Massachusetts, as she contemplated which turbulent and unsettling photographs to include in her “Unquiet World” exhibit. But that’s exactly the point. Corbató’s work draws from themes of destruction and restoration, of rebuilding place and spirit, with hope for forgiveness and determination to preserve our precious “quiet world.” See Corbató’s photography.

Corbató, who has been an Artist/Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University since 2001, collaborated with three fellow artists and Cambridge Art Association (CAA) members to present the “Unquiet World” exhibit, which appeared in the University Place Gallery from March through early April. Her photography, combined with sculptures, paintings, and other art forms created by Milan Klic, Brenda Steinberg, and Suzanne Hodes, was drawn together by a mutual concern about violence against individuals and groups, and its various sources.

“We believe we have a responsibility to translate our concerns into paintings, sculpture, and photographs to remind the viewer that the random and not so random evils of hatred, injustice, war, and natural disaster must be faced but can be surmounted,” Corbató says. “We wished to explore and celebrate the power and creativity of individual human beings as we recognized and gave voice to the victims of the unquiet world.”

Twenty years ago Corbató wouldn’t have described herself as a visual person. Her father and sister were the artists, and she the musician. But unexpectedly, amidst a long career as a pianist and teacher, the shadow, light, shape, and lure of traditional black and white photography captured her heart and mind.

From the Plum Island getaway Corbató purchased to work on music, she was drawn into a powerful visual world, with images infiltrating her thoughts and demanding her attention. After taking some evening courses at New England School of Photography, one of Corbató’s instructors told her to start exhibiting and arranged a gallery show for her. 

“This transition occurred in the most natural way…it just happened while I wasn’t thinking about it,” Corbató says. “In my creative process music and photography function very much the same.  I visually chart a musical score like I construct a photograph, with balance, form, and geometry. Both chronicle what touches my heart. The sounds of my music speak to me from a deep internal place, while my images are my silent voice.”

Corbató made her selections for “Unquiet World” over several months, shifting her thoughts often as she culled only what worked closest with the theme. Some work is new, and some drawn from portfolios already created.

She feels particularly drawn to the series taken at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. A graduate student starting her family at the time, Corbató witnessed the buildup, the war, the protests, and the eruption of violence over the rightness or the travesty of the war.  

“I remember images of Kent State. I remember the lottery draft and friends who fled to Canada.  I remember those who served and the mixed welcome they got when they returned home.  I remember attending a protest just a block north of Harvard Square with my older son, then only a few years old, in tow,” Corbató says. “I was brought to tears when I saw relatives and friends, young and old, reaching out to touch the names of their loved ones on the wall as they stood embracing each other in silence. The power of art created this structure and guided me to capture these images.”

Corbató believes “Unquiet World” proved to be a thought-provoking exhibit. Articles about it appeared in several local newspapers. Hundreds came to visit, and countless more stopped to contemplate the work as they passed through the hall where the show was installed.

This spring Corbató’s work is appearing in two other exhibits, presented by “Violence Transformed”—one at Harriet Tubman House and one at the Massachusetts State House, both in Boston. In spring 2014 Mt. Ida College is expected to present her work in a major solo exhibit. She’s working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on showing a group of historical documentary photographs taken there. Corbató also has several ongoing, extended portfolios, including “Absolution of the Wind, Images of Plum Island;” “Glorious Women;” “THE LONG STREET: a Visual Journey of Time and Place;” and “Avanim:Stones, Pathways of Jewish Life.”

When she’s not working on photography Corbató remains committed to music, her first love and the field in which she earned her degree from SU more than 50 years ago. In October 2012, she returned to campus to perform at Setnor Hall in the concert, “The Music of Ernst Bacon 1898-1990.”

“Ernst Bacon was my teacher and mentor at SU and long-time friend,” Corbató says. “Playing his music, which I have recorded and love, in the wonderful space where I gave my first public performance so many years ago brought me immense pleasure and very special joy!”

In addition to maintaining her ties with SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, Corbató served on the Boston-area Arts Council from 2005 to 2008, creating arts programming and events for alumni in the region.