The Memory Project: Faces of Joy

September 20 – November 19, 2017

Gallery hours:
Wednesday – Friday 10 am – 4 pm, Thursday evenings until 7 pm
Saturday – Sunday, Noon – 4 pm

Opening reception: Thursday, September 21, 5 – 7 pm

Memory Project portraits

Imagine if you were a child living in bombed and burned out ruins without any of life’s basic essentials like running water, heat, electricity, and emergency healthcare? Instead of the comforting routine of schooling and outdoor play you were subject to daily outbursts of crossfire and random attacks from the air including the threat of a chemical weapons attack? How would you cope as an adult, much less as a child? How would your development, self-worth, and well-being fare? An entire generation of Syrian children has only known wartime deprivations.

The statistics are staggering. Since its inception in 2011, five different warring factions in Syria’s Civil War have produced nearly 11 million refugees, that’s 1.5 million more people than live in the metropolitan area of Chicago.

This fall, the Ruth Davis Design Gallery is organizing The Memory Project: Faces of Joy, an exhibition featuring 70 portraits of Syrian children living in refugee camps in Jordan.

The Memory Project, based in Middleton, Wisconsin, invites art teachers and students in the United States to create and donate portraits to youths around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, violence, and extreme poverty. Humanitarian aid agencies provide the organization with photographs and the names of the children being portrayed. The photographs are then distributed to high school art students who create portable portraits of the children. Since its founding in 2004, the Memory Project has coordinated production of more than 100,000 portraits for children in 43 countries.

“We want the portraits to help the children feel valued and important, to know that many people care about their well-being, and to act as meaningful pieces of personal history in the future,” relates Memory Project founder, Ben Schumaker.

Memory Project staff visit the refugee camps and distribute the finished portraits to the children. The artworks often include a letter to the child from the artist. The team documents the encounter with photos and video that will be included in the exhibition.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, of the millions that have fled Syria, more than 655,000 registered refugees currently live in Jordan, and of that number 51.6 % are identified as children by UNICEF. The exhibition is intended to increase awareness and understanding of the current situation, and to offset that situation with a small glimmer of hope.

“The theme of the installation connects directly with the School of Human Ecology’s vision pillars to address societal problems, global experiences, and community well-being,” exhibition curator David L. Newell adds. “It may seem odd attaching the word ‘joy’ to the less-than-joyful refugee experience, but not when you witness the sheer happiness of the children’s reactions to receiving their portraits. The pure joy is unmistakable and their smiles, giggles, and unfettered happiness crosses cultural barriers.”

Read about The Memory Project founder Ben Schumaker

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About the Design Gallery

Each academic semester the Design Gallery organizes a major curated exhibition related to a design topic followed by showcase installations of Design Studies student creative work at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

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