Photographer Robert Richfield’s exhibition “Buddha + Christ” exhibition, on display until October 16 at Gallery Kayafas, depicts burials from different parts of the world including Guatemala, New Mexico, Portugal, France, Spain and Vietnam.
When one first hears the name of the exhibition, they may think that the exhibition is going to be some kind of a combination between the two religions of Buddhism and Christianity into a unique beauty. However, “Buddha + Christ” is really about showing the individual beauty of various religions and how they all remember the deceased in different ways.
The exhibit also chronicles Robert Richfield’s travels to different parts of the world where he studied different cultures. Regarding his fascination in different religious practices, Richfield is mainly interested in the different ways that different religions and cultures remember the dead. He has said “Cemeteries and shrines, I believe, are gateways into the lives and cultures they memorialize.” Therefore, to Richfield, shrines to commemorate the deceased symbolize the culture, religion and life of the person who is being remembered.
Each of the photographs depicts a burial from a different part of the world with an emphasis on the various types of items used in remembrance of the deceased person. The photographs are all done in archival inkjet print.
Out of all the photographic pieces in the exhibition, the one that stands out the most is the 36” x 277” piece, “Chichicastenango Cemetery, Guatemala, 2018,” which was made using an 8/10 digital camera. It is presented along with a similar-sized piece of a cemetery in Guatemala, “Antigua Cemetery, Guatemala, 2018.”
“Chichicastenango Cemetery, Guatemala, 2018” shows the most variety with saturated colors, depicting multiple shots. These shots are distinctly shown using the vertical dark lines in between them. They were taken all at the same level and in line with each other, which is why some objects appear distorted as the structures depicted in the piece turn to a corner. The piece also depicts sections on the wall of burials in this cemetery where families have purchased groups of burials together, which are painted all the same.
This relates to what the director of Gallery Kayafas, Arlette Kayafas, has said about not only this piece, but the exhibition in general, which is, “We’re getting to see how several cultures deal with the passing of a loved one or acquaintance and how they continue to connect with them and what objects they leave behind, what those objects say about the person who is there and the person who is visiting.” This highly relates to the piece “Arles 3, France 2019.”
One photograph that highly depicts the person whose burial is being shown is “Arles 3, France 2019.” It depicts the burial of a woman with a statue of a different religious figure on both the right and left sides of it. At the center of the burial is a bouquet of flowers with a rosary hanging down on it. The center of the burial also depicts a picture of the woman as an infant at the top and then a picture of her later in life at the bottom. There are also descriptions of the woman’s date of birth and death on the right and left sides of the burial. Therefore, the burial shows not only the Christian faith that the woman had in life, but it also really shows the life of the woman from when she was born to growing old. This piece overall shows how this burial describes the life of the person it belongs to more than the burials that one could find in local cemeteries here in America.
Another piece that stands out is “Taos 4, New Mexico 2017” that depicts a burial that can only be viewed from the front due to it being surrounded by a large green fence that depicts spaces in the shapes of crosses. These cross-shaped spaces are able to stand out due to the orange sides on the fence that highlight them. At the center of the burial is a wooden cross surrounded by flowers that shows it is a Christian burial. What makes it stand out is how coordinated the colors within it are. Unlike the other pieces in the “Taos, New Mexico” series, this one depicts color in a coordinated pattern. This along with the way that the burial is directly in the front creates a symmetrical image.
“I think there is a sadness, but there is also when you look at ‘Taos, New Mexico’ there’s celebration,” Kayafas said. This describes how the bright colors within the piece don’t really invoke feelings of sadness over the loss of the person whose burial is depicted, but instead a sense of spiritual peace. The portrayal of balance is also a common theme in the other pieces of the exhibition.
Another Richfield piece that sticks out and shows the way that he captures symmetry and balance in his work is the piece “Hoi An 1, Vietnam 2018.” This 28” x 34 ¾” piece depicts a family burial with two large structures on both the left and right sides and a similar structure in the background positioned in the middle. What really stands out in this burial is the jade green lion statue at the center. However, the roofs on these structures are shown to all have different designs, but remain very similar and perfectly aligned, showing a sense of balance. Therefore, this piece really shows the common theme within Richfield’s work, which is showing balance and symmetry in his photographs of these burials.
“I think that all of these images that Robert has chosen have a lot of visual information and each time you look at them you can see something different,” Kayafas said. “It’s amazing how a really good photograph gives you something new each day.”
Robert Richfield’s “Buddha + Christ” exhibition at Gallery Kayafas shows not only his typical style of photography, but his views on remembering the deceased. With the current Covid-19 pandemic and the recent 20th anniversary of 911, ways of honoring the deceased are definitely relevant today. Ultimately, the sense of peace and balance that Richfield’s work portrays is something that is very much needed in current society.
(“Robert Richfield: Buddha + Christ” continues through October 16 at Gallery Kayafas, 450 Harrison Ave. #37, Boston, Massachusetts. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. For more information, call (617) 482-0411 or visit gallerykayafas.com.)