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The exhibit by Syrian painter Etab Hrieb takes place noon-4 p.m April 27 at Foster’s Frame & Art Gallery, 403 N. Old Statesville Road, Huntersville. For information, call John Foster at 704-948-1750. 

   

DAVIDSON – A year ago, Syrian artist Etab Hreib spent a month presenting her art and culture to the Lake Norman community.

Much of the conversation was about her paintings and exhibits at Davidson College and Foster’s Frame & Art Gallery in Huntersville. Her schedule is similar this year, but the conversation is a bit different because the situation in her home country of Syria has escalated.

“We hear the bombs and explosions. My car was blown up in October,” said Hreib, who has won a number of international art awards and traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East discussing and displaying her work. “It’s hard to concentrate on art in Syria. A lot of government checks in Damascus. I had to sign not to create art or write." 

The 50-ish mother of four is on a two-year cultural exchange visa and is traveling around America presenting her art and telling stories about her homeland to help Americans better understand the situation overseas. Born to a Muslim father and Christian mother, she said all sides of the conflict present problems to average Syrians. 

“I cannot show in Damascus or Syria,” said Etab, who recently gave up her teaching job at the University of Damascus because she refused to back the Assad regime.

“I was being harassed. As artists, we have to report to the government every time we travel.”

Her art, she says, is her way of showing the world the plight of refugees, protestors, women and children.

One of her paintings shows four young women wearing wedding dresses during a protest against the government. Others, especially her bright collages, depict children and fleeing refugees.

Even with the government crackdown, Hreib said she and other artists are undeterred and talk openly about the oppressive situation.

“The wall of fear is broken,” she said. “Syrians are not fearful of talking or creating art. Intimidation tactics are not working. It’s that we artists are known and have public opinion in our favor.”

Rebecca Joubin, Davidson College assistant professor of Arabic studies, first met Hreib during a research trip to Syria in 2001 while getting her doctorate. She later bought a piece of Hreib’s art, took it to John Foster's gallery to have it framed and the two worked on bringing  Hreib to Lake Norman to teach and exhibit her art. 

“Her work was well received over the last year and sold in a very tight market,” said Foster, who will display Hreib’s work for about a month. “She wanted to come back as much as we wanted her. Her desire is to develop a U.S. market.”

From Davidson, Hreib will travel to Chicago for a fundraiser and then to Los Angeles with a similar mission. She previously exhibited her work in New York. 

“I am against war and violence and for freedom and dignity for women and children,” she said. “Art needs freedom. Traveling is fundamental to my art."