Rediscovering Memory: Celebrating the Art and Work of a Threatened Scholar

On October 19th, IIE Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF) supporters and guests celebrated the art and work of IIE-SRF alumna Jumana Jaber at a reception at IIE’s headquarters in New York City. Dr. Jaber is a Syrian artist and professor of visual art and design whose artwork has been exhibited in Poland, the United States, and Syria, including at the Syrian Ministry of Culture and the National Museum of Damascus. Her portfolio spans architecture, interior design, and the foundations of Islamic art, including pieces that explore the relationship between ancient and contemporary architecture in Syria.

Forced to flee her native Syria due to the conflict and intensifying religious conservatism, Dr. Jaber was supported by IIE-SRF to undertake a visiting professorship at Montclair State University (MSU) from 2013 to 2015. While on the IIE-SRF fellowship, she created art that is a study in contrasts. She uses two- and three-dimensional materials to explore the relationship between a flat surface and its integrated 3D components, such as shadows, light, and changing perspectives. Dr. Jaber says about her work, “Depending on the light source, the combination of the two [dimensions] will create an endless variety of possibilities. As the viewer changes their position, it changes their perspective.” Currently, Dr. Jaber uses the shape of a chair as a unifying element of her work. The chair symbolizes power, and her work represents a critique of predominant religious and political power structures.

Several of Dr. Jaber’s newer works were on display at the reception. Seen here are her pieces that explore themes of memory, confinement, and illusion.

Dr. Jaber explains further, "‘Power’ in our Arabic society, like that used by the religious sheikhs, dictators and outdated tradition, handicaps some people still living within an illusion, keeping them limited where freedom and development is reduced.

"In my works the chair is the symbol, but I am also intrigued by the form and shape of chairs. I use white and black in these works to emphasize the contrasts in life—love and hate, justice and injustice, the contradiction of living in reality and living in an illusion."

Dr. Jaber currently resides in New Jersey with her husband and two sons, who also attended the reception. She is a visiting assistant professor of art and design at Montclair State University, a position she maintained after completing her IIE-SRF fellowship. Dr. Jaber is the first recipient of the Janet Hennessey Dilenschneider Scholar Rescue Award in the Arts. Established with gifts from IIE Trustees Robert L. Dilenschneider and Mark A. Angelson, the award supports IIE-SRF fellowships to threatened scholars in fields such as dance, music, and the visual arts. Janet Hennessey Dilenschneider is a painter whose work has been exhibited in the U.S. and internationally. This award in her name reflects her long-standing support for artists and the arts worldwide.

Dr. Jaber and the guests present were joined by IIE President and CEO Allan Goodman, Ms. Dilenschneider, and MSU’s Julie Heffernan, who along with Dr. Jaber all spoke at the event, stressing the importance of preserving the lives of artists threatened by the conflicts in the Middle East. As Dr. Jaber says, “Art can change our mentality. It can change everything.”