Mel Lehman '71, of New York City, travels the country and beyond with the nonprofit he founded, Common Humanity. A gallery exhibit at Eastern Mennonite University's Hartzler Library, opening Sept. 25, is part of Common Humanity's peacemaking work to help build understanding, respect and friendship with the Arab and Muslim world. (EMU file photo)

Mel Lehman ’71 and Common Humanity bring contemporary Syrian art exhibit to EMU

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.

Common Humanity founder and executive director Mel Lehman ’71 with Bshara Nassar MA ’15. The men, who share a common belief in the power of art to connect humans, met in 2016 while Nassar was hanging an exhibit of Palestinian art at EMU. Nasser is founder of the Museum of the Palestinian People in Washington D.C.

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.”

Discussion on “Mel Lehman ’71 and Common Humanity bring contemporary Syrian art exhibit to EMU

  1. Mel, I was reading Susan’s article in the latest issue of the MWR and I thought I’d drop a note to say hello from Bluffton, Ohio. You stayed with us when we had the art show here on campus. Since you were here we have been assisting a Syrian student here at the University.
    It is good to see that you are still working with the program and I am wondering if you are able to get back in contact with the artist?

    Due to the COVID-19 virus wed have also be house bound for the last two months, even in this small Ohio town. We have had more than our share of deaths in the nursing home.

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