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WCSU’s Department of Art among just three Connecticut institutions to earn NEA awards: NEA grant supports Syrian-American artist’s ‘Home Project’ at WCSU

Hafez Mohamad

DANBURY, CONN. — Connecticut artist and architect Mohamad Hafez will bring his acclaimed skills in sculpture, assemblage and installation to Western Connecticut State University this fall as he shares his deeply personal exploration of the concepts of home and displacement with WCSU and Danbury students as part of “The Home Project,” sponsored by a $13,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

With NEA support, Hafez will pursue an extensive program of collaborative art installations and exhibitions, student mentorship, public lectures and other activities during a residency in the WCSU Department of Art that will begin in August and continue through the end of the 2021-22 academic year. Through these diverse and interactive exchanges, he will draw from his unique experiences and artistic works to challenge participants in the project to create their own artistic interpretations of the meaning and concept of “Home.”

Gallery Curator and Adjunct Professor of Art Melissa Ralston-Jones and Visual Arts Assistant and Adjunct Professor of Art Lori Robeau have worked with Hafez for the past two years to develop a residency and exhibition, and with Gabrielle Jazwiecki, director of the Office of Sponsored Research, to complete the successful grant application to the NEA. Ralston-Jones noted that WCSU is one of only three Connecticut colleges to earn the prestigious distinction of receiving an NEA Grants for Arts Projects awards in the current round.

“Gabrielle brought the grant to our attention knowing that we were cultivating a relationship with Mohamad over the past two years and that this project’s objectives aligned perfectly with the objectives of this NEA grant program,” Ralston-Jones said. “Our hopes for ‘The Home Project’ were to create dialogue and raise awareness for displaced people and undocumented individuals, helping to deepen understanding and empathy for those afflicted by war, poverty and homelessness.”

The WCSU Department of Art in 2019 became one of five art departments in Connecticut to earn accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and the only department in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system to achieve this distinction. The WCSU department offers a Bachelor of Arts in Art with concentrations in graphic design, photography, painting or illustration, and a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Art. NASAD accreditation signifies that both programs meet the superior standards set by the agency.

As part of the residency, Hafez will join WCSU faculty members Associate Professor of Art and Kathwari Honors Program Director Sabrina Marques and Dr. Christine Hegel-Cantarella, associate professor of Anthropology and associate chair of the Social Sciences Department, in mentoring students in a fall semester course “There’s No Place Like Home,” designed in conjunction to the residency and exhibition, to inspire cross-cultural dialogue and creativity in organizing visual elements to communicate concepts and experiences of home. The WCSU student participants in this course will incorporate found objects and other materials to create three-dimensional assemblages representing their personal visions of home, which will be installed as a collaborative piece and shown along with Hafez’s work in an exhibition at the Gallery at the WCSU Visual and Performing Arts Center opening in January 2022. The course is also being co-created by faculty at Pace University, who will teach it simultaneously on their campus, allowing WCSU students the opportunity to interact with their peers at Pace through discussion, sharing of work and field trips.

In spring 2022, two WCSU students from the course will collaborate with Hafez to serve as peer mentors to middle and high school students participating in the after-school program at the Harambee Youth Center in Danbury. Student mentors will help guide middle and high school students at the center in creating their own assemblages focused on the question: ‘What is home?’ Hafez also will visit the center and review the projects, which will be displayed in downtown storefront windows during summer 2022 in a cooperative venture with City Center Danbury.

“The Home Project” brings to WCSU an artist whose artistic vision and career have deep roots in the multi-cultural experience of his life’s journey from the Middle East to the United States. Born in 1984 in Damascus, Hafez spent his childhood years in Saudi Arabia and pursued electrical engineering studies in Syria before moving to the United States to study art and architecture at Northern Illinois University and earn his Bachelor of Architecture degree at Iowa State University. Over the past decade, he has created a unique body of multi-media artistic work that seeks to tap into the crossroads of cultural heritages within him.

Hafez has served most recently as interpreter-in-residence at the Oriental Institute and as artist-in-residence at the Harris School of Public Policy, both at the University of Chicago. He maintains a studio in New Haven¬ and has been recognized as a Silliman College Fellow at Yale University and a 2018 recipient of the Arts Hero Award from the State of Connecticut Office of the Arts.


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