The Northern Illinois University Art Museum’s exhibition Refuge and Refugee as well as The Art of Surviving: The Journey of the Karen Refugees in Illinois organized by the Center for Burma Studies at NIU opens in the Art Museum’s Altgeld Hall galleries Tuesday, August 24 and runs through November 12. The exhibitions examine refugee experiences through recreations of home, glimpses of refugee camps, artifacts, textiles, oral histories and photographs as well as contemporary art media grappling with international refugee and immigration crises.

RefugeeRefuge and Refugee
The work of ten artists including one from the Museum’s permanent collection are presented in an examination of the global humanitarian crises as displaced persons forced to flee their native countries attempt to find refuge elsewhere. The artists, moved by current events and news reports, express their shock, horror, and critique of government polices as well as compassion for those impacted by these measures. Several of the artists with immigrant backgrounds relate their own struggles with identity to the inner struggle of missing home and attempting to adapt to a new land. Artists were selected from a national call for entry by the exhibition advisory committee and include: Luciana Abait, Karen Albanese Campbell, Yolanda del Amo, Tere Garcia, Judith Joseph, Rebecca Keller, Eddy A. López, Stephen Walt and Kathy Weaver.

The Art of Surviving: The Journey of the Karen Refugees in Illinois
This exhibition is based on work done by NIU PhD and MA students who either lived within the refugee camps along the Burma-Thai border or who worked with Illinois Karen Refugee communities for the last 15 years.  The exhibit looks at life in Burma, life in the refugee camp and life in the United States. The Karen, an ethnic group in southern Burma/Myanmar, has been in conflict with the government since 1949 first calling for an independent state and now representation in national government. During the decades-long conflict and violent military persecution many Karen escaped to refugee camps and/or resettled to a third country.  The exhibition ties the minority Karen refugee experience to a global perspective, engaging visitors in a critical dialogue on forced migration and displacement and what visitors can do to advocate for local refugee communities.

A full calendar of events including in-person, hybrid, Zoom virtual program URLs, as well as current COVID-19 visitor guidance may be found by visiting

Calendar of Events

Thursday, September 2 – Hybrid Event
Curator’s Talk: The Making of the Exhibition
Curator Catherine Raymond, Ph.D. NIU professor of Art History, director of the Center for Burma Studies, and curator of the Burma Art collection will introduce two NIU alumni whose work inspired this exhibit. Thomas Rhoden, Ph.D. Political Science 2017, who lived for five years within the refugee camps along the Thai Burmese border. Karla Findley, MA Anthropology 2017, who has worked with Illinois Karen Refugee communities for the last 15 years. They will share their experience and the process of making this exhibition happen with the participation of the Aurora Karen community.
6 – 7 p.m. CDT; In-person with limited seating: Altgeld Hall 125
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Friday, September 10 – Virtual Event
Albany Park: The Generational Impact of Refugees and Migrant Communities
Chicago’s Albany Park, home to various refugee and migrant groups throughout its long history, has been shaped by the achievements and contributions of the many groups who called it home. Saidouri Zomaya, MA candidate in Anthropology at NIU, will discuss the impact of generations of refugees and migrants who have left a lasting mark on this community, ranging from the hospital and university to the various community centers that serve families from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
5 – 6 p.m. CDT
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Thursday, September 23 – Hybrid Event
New Humanitarianism: Wars, State-Building, and Globalism
NIU Department of Sociology Professor Abu Bah addresses issues of human security, human rights, and democracy in the context of new wars and terrorism warfare through a global and regional lens. Drawing upon research and publications covering two decades of work on African and international security and governance issues, key questions to be addressed are: what are the roots of civil wars and terrorism warfare? What are the interconnections between state security and human security? How do countries and world powers respond to security challenges and the responsibility to protect vulnerable populations? How does the politics of nativism challenge global society?
5 – 6 p.m. CDT; In-person with limited seating: Altgeld Hall 125
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Wednesday, September 29 – Virtual Event
Representing Refugee Experience: What’s at Stake
A panel discussion with artists Yolanda del Amo and Eddie A. López.  Heide Fehrenbach, Board of Trustees Professor, NIU History Department will moderate a discussion with artist and professor Yolanda del Amo (Ramapo College, Mahwah, NJ) and artist and professor Eddy A. López (Bucknell University Lewisburg, PA) regarding refugee identity and image.
5 – 6 p.m. CDT
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Thursday, September 30 – Hybrid Event
Living in Confinement
Keynote speakers facilitated by Karla Findley, NIU MA Anthropology 2017, with members of the Burmese Karen refugee community of Aurora who will share their experiences of living in refugee camps before coming to the U.S.
5 – 6 p.m. CDT; In-person with limited seating: Altgeld Hall 125
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Thursday, October 7 – Hybrid Event
The Declining Situation of Refugees in the World
Laura Heideman, Associate Professor, NIU Departments of Sociology and Nonprofit and NGO Studies whose research interest includes the role non-governmental organizations play in peace building will consider the current refugee situation in the world today:  what it means to be a refugee; who cares for (or fails to care for) refugees; and why the situation in the past few years has been particularly uncertain.
5 – 6 p.m. CDT; In-person with limited seating: Altgeld Hall 125
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Exhibition Support

Artwork for Refuge and Refugee is on loan from the exhibiting artists and selected from the NIU Art Museum permanent collection. The Art of Surviving: The Journey of the Karen Refugees in Illinois, organized by the Center for Burma Studies at NIU, was made possible through financial support provided by a Henry Luce Foundation grant and includes artifacts from the Burma Art Collection at NIU and on loan from NIU MA 2017 Anthropology alumna Karla Findley and members of the area Karen community.

COVID-19 Visitor Information

The Art Museum will follow the latest recommendations from university, local, state and federal guidance. Please review our current directions for visitors before planning your visit Programming and gallery hours are subject to changes, additions or cancelations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Feeling sick or unwell? We ask anyone feeling unwell to postpone their visit for another time. Visitors are welcome on campus, but we ask that you take the same precautions we ask our students, faculty and staff to protect yourself and others. Current practice is for all persons over two to be masked indoors.