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Counterpoints Arts

Thursday 23 June 2022 - Saturday 23 July 2022

12:00 pm - 6:00 pm


P21 Gallery
21- 27 Chalton Street
Kings Cross


Litehouse Gallery



Telephone: +44 7833 700 984





Arts and Culture


With Velvet Society, we strive to empower Syrian women and culture: it is an exhibition displaying the creative acts of survival in fashion and fabric of two Syrian women, civil engineer Raghad Mardini and Artist Heba Al-Akkad. We have also organised a series of interactive events that will complement the exhibition, including two workshops, one artist-led tour of the exhibition, one live panel and one webinar.





Litehouse Gallery is honoured to present Velvet Society, an exhibition displaying the creative acts of survival in fashion and fabric of two Syrian women, civil engineer Raghad Mardini and artist Heba Al-Akkad. The 90s fashion collection of Mardini, emanating from the wealthy and powerful class of the self-styled “velvet society” prominent in 90s Syria, will be juxtaposed with a range of vibrant artworks made in fabric and fibre by Heba Al-Akkad. A powerful dialogue will be established between these collections, to expose a Damascus of the 90s dominated by complexes of glamour and power, at once joyful yet troubled, wielded both by and against the women in question.

The exhibition centres itself around the stories of these two Syrian Muslim women. From differing backgrounds, they, as refugees from the Syrian uprising, struck up a friendship founded on a mutual interest in creativity within visual arts. Viewers will bear witness to their testimonies of liberation from religious and patriarchal violence. Photographs, art objects and items of fashion are displayed to invigorate a commentary on feminism, female freedom and Syrian history, linked by the medium of textiles.

Prof. Janis Jefferies, Emeritus Professor at Goldsmiths University, has explained the salience of clothes in this exhibition:

Clothing carries powerful signs of non-verbal communication. It covers us, it represents individual identities that can be played with, disrupted and challenge what we do in our everyday lives, both physically and sexually. If we are displaced or exiled from our homes or driven out by war, what we wear changes. In this exhibition we see how two Muslim women become friends. They connect through art, through their different relationship with material; a veil is worn, designer labels are displayed. Photographs act as documents; new objects are made.

By bringing these stories to UK audiences in a seductive yet forceful exhibition, fashion devotees and art lovers alike will explore the political nature of clothing, how it shapes the representation of women in fashion, society and art. Beliefs about Middle Eastern women will be challenged and a broader and richer recent Syrian history will emerge.

Heba Al-Akkad was born in Damascus in 1981. She graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Damascus University 2006. She now lives and works in Gothenburg, Sweden, where she has been able to escape the cycle of familial violence and abuse that she suffered since girlhood. She has had solo shows across Europe and the Middle East. Litehouse Gallery has commissioned work from Al-Akkad on themes of self-identity and dress.

Raghad Mardini, on the other hand, found herself inducted into the “velvet society”, a figurative term for a class involved in high business and power in Syria during the 90s. Photographs from Mardini’s archive will give visual evidence of the velvet society, which, after many years of negotiating its excesses and its alienating demands, she finally decided to reject. These photographs will be shown alongside a fashion collection supplied by western designers including Dior, Versace, Mugler, Chanel, Galliano, YSL, Alaia as well as Syrian designer Nicola Khoury, all of which Mardini wore during her time within the velvet society. The exhibition will not just highlight the vibrancy of those times and the relentless glamour demanded in the velvet society, but will look deeper into how female sexuality was weaponised in the game of politics and money.

This is an exhibition about how, in 90s Damascus, fabric dazzled, lured, sheltered, bound, concealed, and, as time wore on, changed.



Alongside the exhibition, we are organising a series of events ranging from workshops and live panels. Like the exhibition, these events are completely free to attend and require pre-booking. If you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact us via email or send us a direct message on social media. We hope to see you there!


Thursday 23rd June, 7 – 9pm // Private View - Velvet Society.

This features a solo viola performance of Syrian classical compositions by Raghad Haddad, a refugee in the UK and a member of the London Syrian Ensemble.


Saturday 25th June, 2 – 4pm // Workshop - Bird/Human.

This free workshop hosted by artist Heba Al-Akkad is aimed at children and young people. In acts of playful discovery, we will take the bird and the human, merging and mixing the two to obtain an inspired character. The imagination of the child will help create, through the use of recycled materials (fabrics and threads), an artistic doll. The bird will symbolise freedom, hope and migration. Bring an old photo that has meaning for you. All materials will be provided. All ages under 14 and parents welcomed to be present. Book through the website.


Sunday 26th June, 1 – 2pm // Gallery Talk - Curator-led Tour with the Artist.

An opportunity to hear from the artist Heba Al-Akkad and curator Raghad Mardini in person about this exhibition that is based around their two lives in 90s Syria. It will be accompanied by a British Sign Language interpreter. Entry is free.


Thursday 30th June, 6.30 – 7.30pm // Gallery Talk - Social Fabrics: Interwoven Identities.

A live panel with the famous Lebanese novelists Hanan Al Shaykh and Prof. Iman Humaydan. With both novelists speaking about their books - Al Shaykh’s The Locust and the Bird: My Mother’s Story, Humaydan’s The Weight of Paradise - the panel will explore the female characters of their novels and the societal causes they reflect. Entry is free.


Saturday 9th July, 2.30 – 4.30pm // Workshop - Which Story, Whose Histories?

This free two-part workshop hosted by artist Elena Cecchinato is aimed at refugee children and adults. Participants will learn to rework a vintage photograph, giving new life and narrative to it by a stitching and weaving process that will spark new visual conversations with time and memory. Bring an old photo that means something to you. All materials will be provided. The second part of this workshop will take place at Garrett Anderson secondary school. Book through the website.


Saturday 16th July, 6.30 – 7.30 pm // Webinar - Intersectional Feminism in the Middle East.

Lebanese designer and activist, Rana Khoury will speak about her social enterprise ‘Phenomenal Women’, which links women living in difficult situations and survivors of gender based violence to better opportunities and help them leave the never ending cycle of violence.



Litehouse Gallery was founded in London, UK, in 2017 by Raghad Mardini to represent and promote emerging Syrian contemporary artists, create a hub for Syrian artists in the UK, and encourage new forms of cultural exchange between Syrian and British artists.

Litehouse Gallery evolved from the Art Residence Aley (ARA), an NGO founded by Mardini in 2012 in Mount Lebanon, a suburb of Beirut. Many Syrian artists who had fled to Lebanon were unable to continue their practice due to trauma and financial hardship. At ARA, for a month, they had bed, board, space, freedom, and all the materials needed to enable them to make art again. ARA also curated exhibitions and performances worldwide.




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Velvet Society - المجتمع المخملي: Power and Glamour in 90s Damascus


Presented by

Litehouse Gallery



P21 Gallery (Kings Cross)

21-27 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JD, UK



23rd June – 23rd July


Opening Hours

Tuesday, Thursday & Friday: 12 – 6pm

Wednesday: 12 – 8pm

Saturday: 12 – 4pm


Entry is free. No appointment necessary. Wheelchair accessible.

This event is promoted and supported by Arts Council England and Shubbak Festival.