Saturday, July 13, 2024

For those left behind

Serena Ganesan

“Rick Shaefer: The Refugee Trilogy” is an exhibit at the Burke Gallery in the Plattsburgh State Art Museum, focusing on a series of large-scale charcoal drawings inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis. The exhibit includes individual drawings as well as three triptychs, in which Shaefer has used the baroque (combining various parts of paintings by other artists).

Each measuring 96” x 166,” the triptychs are arranged in chronological order based on news reports, depicting the three perilous phases that occur in a refugee’s journey in finding asylum. The three works, “Land Crossing”, “Water Crossing” and “Border Crossing” refer to the obstacles that refugees all over the world face in the form of war, famine, unsafe sea voyages, conflict and antagonism.

“At the time I had been studying the numerous depictions of The Last Judgement, especially those at the Yale Gallery, and that probably influenced my decision to use the language of the Baroque where many of those scenes of turmoil are so theatrically and emotionally portrayed,” says Shaefer regarding the inception of the triptychs. “Rubens’ oeuvre especially contains such a rich assortment of bodies in anguish and action that the idea of extracting various characters from a wide range of his work, and other Baroque artists, seemed an interesting compositional challenge. ” 

The exhibit itself is cross-disciplinary. It could be seen from the perspectives of American history, world history, anthropology, political science, immigration law, literature, art and so much more. Thus, it created an excellent opportunity for faculty across campus to use the exhibit in their courses and research.

“`Altering poses and lighting in each case, and fitting the individual into a new, larger context, was difficult and compelling and I enjoyed the artistic journey immensely,” Shaefer said. “But most importantly. I hope the works convey some of the upheaval and agony that refugees all over the world face.”

Tonya Cribb, the museum director of the Plattsburgh State Art Museum, emphasizes the cross-disciplinary nature of the exhibit.

“I like to do exhibits that are fundamentally cross-disciplinary. Sometimes, people that are not artists feel like art museums are for ‘art people’ and feel a little intimidated by them,” Cribb said. “I would like to make it more accessible to more people. When you have an exhibit that people can approach in different ways, then they see that art can talk about anything. It is one more method of teaching.” 

Art like that of Shaefer’s make students think about issues from a different standpoint. Overall, there has been a positive response from the students who have seen the Refugee Trilogy. According to Alex Borodin, a communications major, it showed him how prevalent the immigration crisis is in post-modern society. 

“You can appreciate the effort of the artist putting together parts of all these different paintings in a single frame to represent the struggle of the refugees,” Borodin said. “Even if it was from a different time, we can still see such plights now and yet ignore what refugees go through to get to a safe place and look for new opportunities.”

“Rick Shaefer: The Refugee Trilogy,” is open from Tuesday to Sunday till December 10, 2021 from 12pm to 4pm in the museum’s Burke Gallery, located on the second floor of John Myers Building. Please visit for more information on The Refugee Trilogy or to see his other works. If you have any questions, please contact PSAM office at 518-564-2474 or email

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