Alumnus Mel Lehman ’71 brings a traveling exhibit featuring the work of contemporary Syrian artists to Eastern Mennonite University. The exhibit opens Friday, Sept. 20, in the Hartzler Library Gallery and will run through October. A reception will be at 4 p.m. on Friday.
Lehman, director of the nonprofit organization Common Humanity, brought the paintings in this show from Aleppo and Damascus, Syria, last December.
The paintings reflect the highly accomplished work of the contemporary art scene in Syria today. Despite the recent war, Syrian artists have continued to create art and have produced some remarkable works. While none of the works are political in nature, the influence of eight years of war is reflected in the style and content and artistic development of a number of the paintings.
Tony Khawam, among the artists Lehman works closely with, said of his work, “My aim is to raise awareness in the hope of changing the perception from destruction — of haunting and disturbing scenes to hopeful, colorful neighborhoods that are filled with life.”
In addition to the professional paintings are several dozen Christmas and New Year cards drawn by art students at the Universities of Aleppo and Damascus and sent to Americans who participated in Common Humanity’s recent Christmas and New Year’s Card Exchange.
The art show is part of Common Humanity’s peacemaking work to help build understanding, respect and friendship with the Arab and Muslim world. Common Humanity, based in New York City, began in 2009 with medical delegations to Syria and has continued with touring art exhibits that raise funds for refugee artists.
“Our entertainment, news media and political leaders continually offer us negative images of the Arab and Muslim world,” Lehman said in a 2016 Crossroads interview. “But we need to remember that there is much good there and the vast majority of people there want peace just as we do. Our Iraqi refugee art exhibits help visitors to see the richness and beauty of Middle East culture and to recognize the common humanity we share with the people there.”