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Syrian Artist Shares Story of Homeland Through Her Work

Etab Hreib
Etab Hreib.

Like thousands in her home country of Syria, artist Etab Hreib is intimately familiar with the consequences of violent conflict – her son was recently arrested and imprisoned by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and her house in Syria robbed. Hreib, who grew up in a peaceful household with a Christian mother and Muslim father, said she's surprised by the current conflicts. "I want to show people that it hasn't always been this way," she added.

Hreib has chosen to share the nuances of her homeland with the world through her art work. Since moving to Chicago in 2012, Davidson has become an annual destination for her. With sponsorship from the Arab Studies department, theatre department and Dean Rusk Office for International Studies, Hreib again visited the college this month.

"She's very generous with her time," said Assistant Professor of Arab Studies Rebecca Joubin. "Each time she comes, more students hear about her visit and will ask her to participate in various activities."

Initially, Hreib came to work primarily with Arab Studies students, helping them to improve their language skills while also learning about the cultural perspective of a Syrian Artist.

During her most recent visit, Hreib participated in a henna and calligraphy common hour hosted by the Muslim Students Association, painted two canvases to be auctioned at the Dinner for Davidson, helped students paint 10 panels for a theatre production, and created an art installation with students.

"I think that art is such an important part of all studies," said Joubin. " I found that when Etab started coming during the uprising, it was so important because it helped students put a face to an intellectual from that part of the world."

The panels that Hreib created with students for the theatre department will appear in "The Prophet," a play directed by Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Theatre Samer Al-Saber about the 2011 Egyptian uprising. The production opens Nov. 19.

"We wanted something panoramic that would surround our audience and remind them that there is turmoil throughout the Middle East, not only in Egypt," said Al-Saber. "The panels are symbolic with paintings of bodies of different ages, sizes and genders, but at the same time they evoke this chemical attack that happened in Syria a year ago."

With each visit to Davidson, the scope of Hreib's activities has expanded to encompass projects across campus as well as in the local community. Beyond campus, Hreib has exhibited her work at a gallery in Huntersville and has painted murals with the children at Davidson Elementary School.

Hreib will continue her outreach in hopes of closing the distances that obscure understanding between people. She said, "I want to give the younger generation here in America a new experience from one woman and one artist who has come from war in another country and has different experiences with war and in life."