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

About the exhibition

This fall, the Ruth Davis Design Gallery is organizing The Memory Project: Faces of Joy, a traveling exhibition featuring 70 handmade portraits based on photographs of Syrian children living in refugee camps in Jordan. The exhibition brings together the School of Human Ecology with the Memory Project and Open Doors for Refugees, two local advocacy groups engaged in refugee support. The Memory Project: Faces of Joy exhibition introduces human ecology students and the larger public to a heartwarming initiative designed to support the well-being of Syria’s child refugees, a most fragile population. According to Ruth Davis Design Gallery Director and Curator David Newell, “Memory Project offers a real-world example of how the work of human ecologists to promote global citizenship and solve complex societal problems leads to family and community well-being. The installation is designed to increase awareness and understanding of the current situation for Syria’s displaced children, and to provide an alternative narrative and glimmer of hope.

Imagine what’s like to be 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, random air raids, and the threat of 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 and 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. 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 Memory Project initiative, 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. According to Ben Schumaker, the project’s founder “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.” First, humanitarian aid agencies provide the organization with photographs and the names of the children being portrayed. Then the photographs are t distributed to high school art students who create portable, one-of-a-kind portraits of the children. Lastly, 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, and these are included in the exhibition. According to Design Gallery Director David L. Newell, “It may seem odd attaching the word ‘joy’ to the less-than-joyful refugee experience, but 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.”

Since its founding in 2004, the Memory Project has coordinated production of more than 100,000 portraits for children in 43 countries.

Read about The Memory Project founder Ben Schumaker

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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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