Art exhibit to benefit local Syrian refugees

College of DuPage professor's art exhibit to benefit local Syrian refugees

Alone this past New Year's Eve, College of DuPage art Professor Jennifer Hereth was thinking about a Time magazine article she had read naming German Chancellor Angela Merkel the Person of the Year. Hereth wondered, who would she name Person of the Year if she had to choose?

"I decided I would pick the mothers and fathers of Syrian children trying to get their families to safety," she said.

Googling UPI photos of the refugees, Hereth noticed that as the refugees crossed the sometimes treacherous sea and landed in Lesbos, Greece, volunteers wrapped them in gold and silver thermal blankets. The gold and silver colors reminded Hereth of religious icons, connoting honor and value.

She knew then she would do a series of artwork honoring the heroics of those refugees and donate the benefits to them.

Hereth's show, "Refugee," opens with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, May 21, in Burning Bush Gallery, 216 N. Main St., Wheaton. A $5 donation is requested for the reception. The show will remain up through Sunday, June 5.

Funds generated from the sale of the 16 works will go to the Syrian Community Network to benefit 30 Syrian refugee families living in the Chicago area, including DuPage County.

The pictures show photos of refugees that Hereth copied and embellished with costume jewelry, buttons, metallic candy wrappers and other found objects, then covered with gold and silver leaf. The gold and silver frames that hold the pictures are thrift store finds.

"What has come together are 16 beautiful pictures," Hereth said. "Everyone who walks into my studio says these are just stunning."

Hereth said she scoured thrift stores to embellish her work to keep the costs low. The works will be priced from $100 to $300.

"The price range is to encourage people to buy them so there can be funds raised," Hereth said. "One hundred percent of the sales of the pieces will go toward these families."

Hereth said if she is able to raise $3,000, she would like to give each family $100 to go on a summer outing. "I know how much that means to large families," she said.

Suzanne Akhras Sahhloul, the head of the nonprofit Syrian Community Network, said the gifts will be appreciated. Sahhloul, whose father was from Syria and who came to United States when she was 10, said the network pairs the Syrian refugees with volunteers to help them in the transition to this country.

The first Syrian refugees came to the Chicago area in late 2014 and early 2015, and many are struggling financially, she said.

"It means a lot," Sahhloul said. "It (the transition) has been a slow process, but It's getting better."

Hereth said the pictures represent not just Syrian refugees, but refugees in general.

"I named the show 'Refuge' because refugee (is) becoming an iconic figure across the globe, unfortunately," she said. "That is something we really have to start to think about, how we are going to care for the people of the whole globe."

Well-known for her socially-conscious artwork, Hereth has led students at College of DuPage on such projects as creating art for victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Her artwork has been shown in museums around the world, and she was the keynote speaker this year at the Art Against Violence Conference.

Tony Asta, director of the Burning Bush Gallery, said Hereth has exhibited work at the gallery before.

"She does some great work about getting out there and energizing people on the issues of the day," he said. "Whatever she does is 1,000 percent and sure to energize."

Asta's own involvement with a project in South Sudan led to Hereth being able to facilitate the giving of another gift to Syrian refugees. The owners of a riverboat casino in Indiana had donated 2,000 thermal blankets to Asta, but he was unable to send them to South Sudan. Hereth mentioned the blankets to the Syrian American Medical Society and they are now on the way to Syrian refugees in Greece.

"I feel very blessed by doing this body of work," she said.

Hereth believes her refugee artwork was meant to be. Ironically, over Christmas break, she had turned down a request to have another May exhibit, saying there wasn't enough time to do the work. But when she started creating art for the refugee exhibit, she finished it in four months.

"It flowed so well that I was able to do 16 pieces in four months, teach full-time and keep up with my other commitments," she said. "The work felt so meant to be."

Burning Bush Gallery is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment. For information, call (708) 705-8669. Donations to the Syrian Community Network may be sent, c/o Hereth, to 1143 S. Plymouth, No. 123, Chicago, IL 60605.

  College of DuPage art Professor Jennifer Hereth's pictures based on UPI photos of Syrian refugees range in size from 16-by-20 inches to 6-foot-by-6-foot. Bev Horne/
  College of DuPage art Professor Jennifer Hereth embellished her artwork based on UPI photos of Syrian refugees with costume jewelry, buttons and found objects. She also used thrift store frames to keep costs low. "I wanted 100 percent of the profits to go to the families and their needs," she said. Bev Horne/
  College of DuPage art Professor Jennifer Hereth saw that UPI photos of Syrian refugees often showed them being wrapped in silver and gold thermal blankets after being rescued from the sea. The silver and gold reminded her of religious icons. She embellished her own work with found objects and covered it with gold and silver leaf to connote the honor and value of the refugees. Bev Horne/
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