When working on her dissertation in Damascus, Syria several years ago, Davidson professor Rebecca Joubin was drawn to the work of a local artist, Itab Hreib.
"What really struck me was the vibrant colors and all of the emotions in her work," said Joubin, who now teaches Arabic culture and language as an assistant professor of Arabic.
One of Hreib's paintings became the first piece of Syrian art that Joubin ever bought. Since coming to Davidson in 2009, Joubin has returned to Damascus every summer for her research on Syrian culture and has bought another of Hreib's latest works.
Now the entire Lake Norman community can enjoy Hreib's works. The 57-year-old will be visiting the Davidson area for the month of March.
During her first visit to North Carolina, she will present her work at a local art gallery, teach classes at Davidson College and learn more about southern culture.
She is also expected to discuss how the current political unrest has affected her life and profession in Syria during the art show.
"(The) popular revolution in Syria is a revolution for social justice and change," Hreib wrote in an email. "(It is) very difficult and tough, but it is my country Syria (that) I love very much. ... I hope the future (is) very good."
Joubin described how electricity and water is frequently cut off throughout Syria and how the government censors everything that everyone does.
Hreib said that throughout it all, she has tried to keep the focus on her art, her passion.
Still, she has not been exhibiting her paintings this past year in Damascus.
She said she feels that it would be wrong for her to focus on exhibiting as if everything was fine in the midst of so much political turmoil.
She's also delved deeper into her volunteer work teaching art to diabetic children in Damascus.
After several months, when she secured a visa, Hreib is expected to display and sell her work on March 23 and 24 at Foster's Frame and Art Gallery in Huntersville.
She will be the first international artist that the gallery has hosted, said owner John Foster.
"That is pretty exciting for us," he said. "We think she's a really unique artist who's done some really unique work."
Foster said he remembers being struck by Hreib's work when Joubin first brought a piece to him to be framed.
"It's a cross between abstract and primitive," he said. "Just looking at her work, I get excited about her coming. I think she has a good mixture of color. Her work speaks to energy and vibrancy."
Hreib's watercolor paintings are created entirely from the memories of traveling with her family as a young girl.
Her art depicts the Syrian countryside as well the faces of many people that Hreib has encountered throughout life.
"I've seen her sitting down and starting one of her paintings. There's nothing in front of her. It's all from her memory," said Joubin. "It's very spontaneous. She's not using conservative brush strokes. It's very spontaneous."
A renowned artist in her home country, Hreib also teaches fine arts at the University of Damascus.
Hreib frequently travels to other countries for art exhibits and uses the trips as inspiration for new art works, said Joubin.
Art studios from New York to Beijing have featured her work, she said.
"Traveling is one of the fundamentals of her art. She feels it opens her mind," said Joubin.
She's also won awards in a number of different countries, including Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt.
In addition to the gallery exhibit, Hreib will teach a calligraphy class to students at Davidson College who are studying Arab during her month-long stay.
She'll teach the class using watercolor, said Joubin.
Hreib said she's looking forward to her upcoming art exhibit in Huntersville.
She added that she hopes that people enjoy her work for what it really is: Stories of "peace, love and joy" brought to life on the canvas.
She adds: "Travel is my pilgrimage and paintings is my prayer."
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