An Artist speaks to the dead, the living, and the yet to be born: Patricia R. Corbett

Photograph courtesy of Reuben Radding.

This entry documents MFAIA alum Patricia R.Corbett’s recent visit to the MFAIA Winter Residency, drawing her words from her commencement address. It also features photographs by current MFAIA student, Reuben Radding. — editor

Patricia Corbett’s return to campus as both our alumni  guest artist and commencement speaker during the Masters of Fine Art in Interdisciplinary Arts (MFAIA) 2019 Winter Residency in Plainfield, VT was a whirlwind of presence and wisdom. Patricia graduated from the program in 2017, with a final product titled Answering the Call of My People: Captured Fractured Buried Excavated Reassembled Set Free — a collection of complete and fragmentary works mapping her journey of discovering, examining, and reclaiming ancestry, family, community, and self. 

Photograph courtesy of Reuben Radding.

The research and creative work undertaken through her graduate research heralded the call to witness and action she issued in her commencement address. In speaking of her father’s work as a civil rights activist, Patricia presented a loving and holistic portrait of a man of action and deep reflection:

My Father was a civil rights activist, street preacher, baggage foreman, and janitor all while attending Virginia Union University, a small Historically Black University in Richmond, VA.  A light skinned Brother who was committed to civil rights, he fought hard for himself, for his family, and for his community. My Father of mixed heritage, black, white, and indigenous, exemplified everything that the white world was telling black people we weren’t and could never be: committed to family, compassionate for community, successful in our own right and by our own definition. A hardworking Brother, in 1974 he chose to earn is bachelor’s degree at 28 years old with a wife and four children. His academic study was the beginning of supporting what the world had already taught him, shown him, and in some trying situations beat into him- life is extraordinarily difficult for a black man in this country. But he was a warrior who never gave up. Linwood Corbett exemplified civil disobedience.

Of her mother, still in conversation with the work of living, Patricia offers a portrait of agility and grace:

My Mother, an educator, poet and visual artist continues to inspire me. Her love and beautiful storytelling is incredible.  As she ages I witness her resilience. Losing my Father, her Mother and Father, two of her brothers, and a sister all within a few years. She has become our family Matriarch. Strong and proud.  Most importantly, her love for me and acceptance of my bow ties has sustained me through my entire artistic career.

Photograph courtesy of Reuben Radding.

Through these portraits and through an examination of her own commitment to the struggle for justice, Patricia found a lens through which she could witness our graduates — but perhaps more importantly a way to urge those of us present to look more closely at the ancestry that both anchors and fuels our engagement with ethical living:

An Artist speaks to the dead, the living, and the yet to be born. Our work is influenced, activated, and often inspired by our ancestry, our surroundings, our family, friends, and the range of emotions we experience as we engage with the world. As I listened to the graduate presentations I saw ancestors pushing you forward: Shante shared circles reflecting her cathartic experience in conversation with trees, she breathed and espoused the necessity of unthawing, re-connecting the thread, making room for grief, Jennifer sang in a voice that was inspired and divinely led by her Principle while sharing composers and musicians who inspired her work- both dead and the living. Sharon spoke of her desire to create an inclusive space for young people in theatre and showed us through improvisation that there is no script when engaging with the living. Kerrykate turned her rage into song and movement and produced an explosion of energy that celebrated being a woman and lesbian. She lifted the LGBTQ and all of the alphabets in the spectrum.

Photograph courtesy of Reuben Radding.

The evening following commencement, in her role as alumni guest artist, Patricia invited us into her practice by premiering a new performance, The Perils of a Southern Black Lesbian. A one-woman show, it’s a collection of short stories about living in the South including extemporaneous discourse about race, religion and gender. “Sermonesque” in its voice, the performance celebrates blackness, strength, resilience, love, and the contradictory existence of being Black, queer, and American. 

Photograph courtesy of Reuben Radding.

As noted by Patricia on her website, her work — as an artist and as a social activist & educator — “examines social, political, racial, religious, and cultural matters that affect populations whose bodies, voices, and stories are muted, overlooked, misrepresented, or absent from conversations that elevate their existence.” Making room and holding space for such stories, challenges her many audiences to recognize the humanity within and outside themselves.

Patricia’s participation in our residency animated our collective discourse about the role Goddard College, and specifically the MFAIA program, can play in contemporary social justice movements, she provided us with a model for action and the fuel to reenter our worlds with renewed faith and commitment to action. 

Pete Hocking, Vermont Lead Faculty & editor

PATRICIA R. CORBETT is employed with Citizen Schools, a national educational programming nonprofit as the North Carolina Volunteer Support Manager for the Catalyst program. She recruits, trains, and coaches community volunteers to creatively collaborate with classroom teachers on STEM based curriculum. 

REUBEN RADDING is a photographer, writer, and musician based in New York City. His award-winning street and personal documentary photographs depict elusive or unlikely candid moments, and intentionally provoke unanswerable questions in the viewer’s mind.  Radding’s work has been exhibited in galleries around the world, and in publications like The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Hamburger Eyes, Time Out, Hyperallergic, Downbeat and others. His work has also been featured at the Miami Street Photography Festival, The Center for Fine Art Photography, and the Focus on the Story Festival. His first book of photographs, Apparitions, was published in 2013. Radding has been an instructor with the New York Institute of Photography since 2013, and has taught workshops or lectured at New York University, The School of Creative and Performing Arts,  Marble Hill Camera Club, and others. Since 2017 he has offered a series of street photography workshops from his Brooklyn studio. He graduates from Goddard College with an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts in July 2019.

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The Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts (MFAIA) program at Goddard College is a unique graduate experience at the intersection of contemporary art practice and Goddard’s landmark method of low-residency, human-centered learning and teaching. Information about Admissions to the program is available at goddard.edu

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