Introduction to Velvet Society by Prof. Janis Jeffries

Introduction

Prof. Janis Jefferies

 

Velvet Society: Power and Glamour in 90s Damascus

Raghad Mardini and Heba Al-Akkad in dialogue

The Litehouse Gallery is a unique space for showing work by Syrian artists, many of whom escaped war. The gallery’s founding director Raghad Mardini was born in Damascus but escaped to Lebanon. She created a series of artist residencies in the stables she had restored at Aley (ARA) outside of Beirut in Lebanon, itself a city and country that has only recently recovered from a violent past and civil war.  ARA offered respite to young Syrian artists post 2011. Mardini’s vision on arriving in London was to release the creative energy of artists, homeless and displaced, like millions of others and who had suffered and continue to suffer the horrors of war (figs.1 and 2).

Founded in 2017, the Litehouse gallery represents and promotes the work of emerging Syrian contemporary artists, and as Mardini explains, “A main objective of Litehouse Gallery is to build bridges between the UK and the Middle East and to create awareness and spread ideas about all topics related to being displaced, living in exile, identity, belonging and security”[1].

The current exhibition, Velvet Society: Power and Glamour in 90s Damascus, brings together two women, the curator Raghad Mardini and

[1] https://litehousegallery.co.uk/interview-with-raghad-mardini-at-home-through-the-artists-eyes/ accessed 15/03/2022

(figs. 1 and 2: Aley (ARA), the stables restored by Raghad Mardini to house artists fleeing from upheaval in Syria and the Middle East)

 

the artist Heba Al-Akkad, who have distinctive collections to show and histories and stories to tell us about their lives in a Syria of the recent past. The reference to ‘velvet society’ is important. It is a figure of speech which is used across the Middle East for nouveaux-riches business men, diplomats and political powerbrokers who had a glamorous and expensive lifestyle.

 

As  Raghad Mardini recalls,

 

The power system in Syria gave rise to the “velvet society” where rich businessmen and men of power socialise alongside diplomats and expats. Women’s position in that social structure is considered merely as objects to enhance male political and economic status.

 

Where does our story begin?

Raghad Mardini and Heba Al-Akkad met in Beirut through Mardini’s artist residency project for fleeing artists in need. Both women were in exile from the regime and upheaval in Syria and became friends. Although from very different classes in Syria, the women connected through their desire to redefine a woman’s place and position in society, exploring self and social images through their respective personal narratives. They have found their own voice from their experiences of being women who ‘rebelled’ under Syrian’s system of power and privilege. Their love of art, their commitment to creativity and individual expression, supported their desire to become self-confident women full of pride, dignity and independence as they now hold their futures in their own hands.

 

Passion for Fashion: Mardini’s story

Each has a different relationship with material. Mardini trained as a civil engineer. This means design, building, assembly and renovation of old houses in Damascus. But, it was through a marriage in the 90s that Mardini was thrown into a new socioeconomic class, the self-styled velvet society, and her clothes, as much as her identity and behaviour, had to adapt radically in order for her to function in her new lifestyle of high power and glamour, a demanding new set of social mores and a new visual and sartorial language to relocate herself in and to negotiate.

 

It was from this move into the velvet society that she accrued a collection of 1990s couture clothes, which she once wore at highly glamorous and social events and that can be seen in this exhibition and catalogue (for instance, see cats. ). The dresses, like the woman who wore them, were on display for someone else’s pleasure. On the other hand, the dresses themselves were beautiful, often sumptuously crafted, and Mardini, who had an instinctive passion for fashion, derived aesthetic joy in these clothes. Mardini has kept some very beautiful ones that hold memories from the past: these form part of the exhibition. They are full of colour, vibrancy and rich in detail. Sartorial choices and stylistic innovations are the creative products of cosmopolitan and glamorous lifestyles as Mardini’s dresses, archive material and labels from Cavalli, Dior, Versace, Hervé Léger, Mugler, Leboutin, Prada, Chanel, D&G, YSL, Alaia and Syrian designer Nicola Khoury, show us (cats. xyz).

 

In Mardini’s archive there are photographs whilst at ‘social’ events with her then husband. While it appears to be a very cosmopolitan lifestyle, appearances can deceive. Cosmopolitanism evokes many associations linked to ideas of hybridity, pluralistic dialogue, and openness to the worlds of others. It is associated with progressive thinking and a willingness to cross borders and challenge various forms of parochialism, religious and patriarchal violence, as Mardini understands from her own struggles.

 

Dress, clothing, fabric

In Visibly Muslim (2010), Emma Tarlo describes René Magritte’s famous painting of a pair of lace-up boots that end in human toes (Le Modèle Rouge, 1935, (fig.)) and how it explores the relationship between the body and clothing. This is often referred to as a second skin by Tarlo. But a second skin can also be a protective layer to the woman who begins to explore her identity bounded by an oppressive society.

 

Dress, clothing and fabric carry powerful signs of non-verbal communication. We are covered, draped and tightly fitted by them; individual identities can be represented and played with. What we do and what we wear in our everyday lives can be challenged playfully in any number of physical, aesthetic and sexual ways. If we are displaced or exiled from our homes or driven out by war, what we put on or around our body’s changes.  Scraps of fabric wear with age, as do bodies marked by class, gender, and culture. Clothing can disguise what we feel, protect women from onlookers; they are a second skin, attached to us, but they can symbolically perform shifting social values and economic status, in the past and in the present.  Our social relations and cultural behaviours are both mediated and expressed. In this sense they are part of a social fabric, however fragile, towards a future yet to be made. It is on-going work that involves ceaseless questioning. Critical engagement with material, the stuff that matters, involves repetition, revision and reordering, allowing us to explore concepts that are in flow and in flux. New ideas can be seeded, just as we perform new ways of dressing ourselves for what lies ahead and, at the same time, actively engaging with the archives of our lives and stories to present new points of departure. The most important issue is how our clothes make us feel about ourselves. What matters is that the clothes are our own choice and make us happy. Raghad’s dress has changed and she feels free to express herself in her own choice of clothes without the need to conform to what others think and contrary to what consumerism and the patriarchy tells us.

(fig. 3: Magritte, Le Modèle Rouge, 1934. Oil on canvas. 183 x 136 cm. Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam.)

 

 

Assemblage: Heba Al-Akkad’s story

Heba Al-Akkad focuses on a different kind of assembly in her work to that of the archival curation of Mardini. As one of the artists involved in Mardini’s artist residencies in the stables at Aley (ARA) in 2013 for artists in need following the upheaval in Syria, she began to explore themes of isolation and vulnerability.  The paintings of this period are soulful but their light, bright palette conjures feelings of Matisse and other Fauves painters (???fig.). In her dream-like images, she works to disentangle feelings of loss and death. She experienced so much in her life, from an early, abusive childhood to the murder of her brother: it was art that provided solace.  Fabric and collage would later become integral to her art practice.

My mother left us when I was five years old.  My father remarried; my stepmother was stitching all the time, my grandmother sewing, and my aunt knitting.  Thread and fabric have been with me since my childhood.[1]

 

In 2002 Heba graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus University, where her studies concentrated on figurative, academic artworks. At the same time, she taught art to children aged 5 to 7 years. As she writes, they had a greater influence on her art.

 

I used to watch them, I learned from them how to imagine a face and colour it blue.   I was inspired by the children’s work, and this is the reason my drawings and paintings look a lot like children’s work.

 

I had no paints, so I used fabric from the dresses I wore as colour.  I cut them, added a piece of our neighbour’s mattress cover which resembled trees. I cut our red tablecloth to make the mole on my sister’s face. I called my artwork My Sisters and I in the Park… I decided to write the story of my life in my artworks, using oil pastel crayons as well as fabric[2]

 

Moving from photography, painting and sculpture, she found her voice through collage, creating three-dimensional works that explore the power of women’s sexual and social status through a range of mixed media materials. These were often built from soft sculptural forms of body parts, limbs and doll-like heads. Heba Al-Akkad’s biography tells us that she has always worked with fabric, thread and paper — but frequently on canvas (such as cat.). Interestingly, she was raised in a family of tailors and from the age of twelve made abstract constructs using any materials at hand.

 

For a long time, Heba was creatively blocked, traumatised by the violence and destruction she had seen of the place she had lived: soft sculptures of abstract faces and heads came into the forms that we see here in the assemblages of this exhibition and for which she is known internationally, being, for example, part of the Syrian pavilion in the 2015 Venice Biennial edition. War changed everything. She now lives in Sweden.

 

Heba’s newly commissioned work is on display for the first time in the UK. The exhibition focuses on the themes of self-identity and dress. It movingly connects to Mardini’s ideas of how some men exerted control over her during her time in the velvet society, often reducing a woman to a puppet, co-opting the fabric of women’s clothes and the fine craftsmanship of fashionable clothes and the cult of glamour into this.        Reflecting similar ideas, Heba’s dolls are often bound together with thread (cat.). Wood appears as supports, often boxes into which these women are enclosed, made to stand, are put on show and transported away (cat.). For some viewers, limbs and body parts may recall the latter fabric works of Louise Bourgeois (fig. 4). She too repeated the themes of identity, sexuality, trauma and memory later in life. Memories cannot be escaped from, nor the psychological trauma that remains from childhood as in Bourgeois’ ‘herstory’. Heba often uses news clippings and images of the war in Syria to accompany her collages and dolls. I think the work contributes to our understanding and rethinking of history, how we deal, as viewers, in this instance, of tragic and traumatic historical events, mediated through the eyes and hands of an artist who constructs and tries to make sense of her personal, cultural, and political memory, effects of war and displacement. In this exhibition, Raghad’s personal

[1] The Story of Heba, given to the author, 26/03/22

[2] Ibid.iii.

 

Bourgeois, The Good Mother (detail), 2003. Fabric, thread, stainless steel, wood and glass. 109.2 x 45.7 x 38.1 cm. Photo: Christopher Burke.

 

archive of dresses and photographs from her time in the velvet society and Heba’s artworks—both collections steeped in memories and experiences that are highly individual—converge in the space of the exhibition room. The lives of these two women, presented in these works of fabric, open up to one another across the room, forming as much as revealing a space of shared cultural experience and memory. It is an exhibition as much of microhistory as microhistory played out on the highest level, crossing borders and decades, as both women have had to do. But, what is the collective memory that Raghad Mardini and Heba Al-Akkad share?

[1] The Story of Heba, given to the author, 26/03/22
[1] Ibid.iii.

 

Collective Memory

Eviatar Zerubavel (1996) sees that an understanding of collective memory can be taken as cultural and an idea that not only implies a commonly shared past but also a jointly remembered one[1].  This definition best describes what Raghad Mardini and Heba Al-Akkad bring into focus. To study memory is not just a question of deepening it, but rather to us, as viewers, of mediation and an appropriation for our times. We can, for a short while in this exhibition, only act as witnesses.  As Walter Benjamin has taught us:

 

He who seeks to approach his own buried past must not be afraid to return to it again and again to the same matter; to scatter it as one scatters earth, to turn it over as one turns over the soil.

Benjamin, W. c1932[2]

 

Documentation

I raise the question of documentation, or how we view the past we have not experienced. As outlined by Boris Groys (2002)[3] the claim is made that art documentation, like archives, newspapers, labels, are the only possible form of reference to an artistic activity that cannot be represented in any other way. This is what the space in the exhibition has recourse to, the combinatorics of the art archive and the enlivening presence of the viewer bound in the moment and in its midst. Mardini’s collection, which had for a long time been in storage in the Middle East, opens itself up to Heba’s artworks, themselves works of archival weaving, and to a new space and time here in London, and, in turn, a sense of lives being led and art being made is kindled, just for a moment, for the viewer. The transfer of art as activity, in so far as it can be reinstated in another location, brings the original action into a close proximity with our viewing experience; it brings it ‘home’ by another route. This question of ‘home’ haunts this exhibition.

 

In this powerful exhibition, Velvet Society: Power and Glamour in 90s Damascus,  we can give witness to the artists’ testimony by gaining some small insights into how two Syrian women have coped with historical religious and patriarchal violence through their creative acts of survival and renewal.

 

References

Tarlo, E. 2010 Visibly Muslim: Fashion, Politics, Faith. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

[1] Zerubavel, E. 1996. ‘Social Memories: Steps to Sociology of the Past’. Qualitative Sociology19: 283-299

[2] Benjamin, W.1927-1934. (1999) Excavation and Memory. Berlin Chronicle. Selected Works II: 576, 611. Jennings M.W., and Eiland H. and Smith, G. (Eds.) Transl. Livingstone R.et al. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

[3] It is worth citing the claim in full at this point as Groys’s point is that whilst art documentation refers to art in many different ways, including performances, temporary installations or collaborative happenings, they are only visible and present to us, as potential viewers, at a particular time. ‘Art documentation which by definition consists of images and texts that are reproducible, acquires through installation an aura of the original, the living, the historical. In the installation the documentation gains a site – the here and now of a historical siting. Because the distinction between original and copy is entirely the topological and situational one, all of the documents placed in the installation become originals – and thus can rightly be considered original documents of a life that they seek to document. If reproductions make copies out of original, installations make originals out of copies. Boris Groys, ‘Art in the Age of Bio Politics from Art Work to Art Documentation, Documenta 11 – Platform 5, Exhibition Catalogue, Germany, Hatje Cantz, 2002, p 114.

VELVET SOCIETY: Power and Glamour in 90s Damascus 23June – 23July 2022

Event Type
Private View

Event Title
Velvet Society: Power and Glamour in 90s Damascus Private View with Live Solo Viola Performance by Raghad Haddad

General Information
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.

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.

A private view with the artist, Heba Al-Akkad, will be held Thursday 23rd of June at 7pm in the P21 Gallery, and will feature a solo viola performance of Syrian classical compositions by Raghad Haddad, a refugee in the UK and a member of the London Syrian Ensemble.

Heba Al-Akkad
Artist
Litehouse Gallery

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.

Thursday 23rd June, 7.00 – 9.00 pm

 Partner/s Details
Arts Council England.

Event Coordinator
Raghad Mardini
Director
Litehouse Gallery Limited
Phone: +447497106676
Email: raghad@litehousegallery.com

VELVET SOCIETY: Bird / Human, Heba Al-Akkad 25June 2022

Event Type
Workshop

Event Title
Bird / Human

General Information
This free workshop hosted by artist Heba Al-Akkad is aimed at children and young people. Using fabric and puppetry techniques, participants will explore self-identity and coding through clothes by creating their own figures using textile and cardboard boxes. Bring an old photo that has meaning for you. All materials will be provided. All ages under 14 and parents welcomed to be present.

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. We will create a space to empower the child, encourage him or her to experiment with different materials that help develop skills of drawing and carving in an artistic frame. The bird will symbolise freedom, hope and migration.

Artists/Speakers Names & Bios
Heba Al-Akkad
Artist
Litehouse Gallery

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.

Her work is never didactic, though themes of isolation and vulnerability are pervasive. Her work often has a bright palette reminiscent of Matisse and the other Fauves and she speaks movingly of how she has learnt from the art of children. In her dream-like images, she works to disentangle feelings of abuse, loss and death and begins to create vivid pieces of art bridging her past, present, and future. In these images humorous imagery jostles alongside soulful longing and dark remembrances.

Al-Akkad has had solo shows internationally, including at the Gislaveds Konsthalle and the Skovde Konstmuseum, both in Sweden; Europia Gallery in France; Galerie Tanit in Lebanon; Alanda Art Gallery in Jordan; and Samer Kozah Gallery in Syria.  She exhibits regularly in group shows around the world, including Venice, Washington DC, London, Dubai, Japan, and Germany.


Saturday 25th June, 11.00 – 1.00 pm

Partner/s Details
Arts Council England, Counterpoints Arts as part of Refugee Week.

Event Coordinator
Raghad Mardini
Director
Litehouse Gallery Limited
Phone: +447497106676
Email: raghad@litehousegallery.com

VELVET SOCIETY: Power and Glamour in 90s Damascus 23June – 23July 2022

VELVET SOCIETY: Power and Glamour in 90s Damascus

Heba Al-Akkad and Raghad Mardini in dialogue

 

23rd June-23rd July 2022

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.

In 1994, civil engineer Mardini joined the “velvet society”, a figure of speech used across the region describing nouveaux-riches businessmen and political powerbrokers.  We glimpse this system through the perspective of one woman’s experience, Mardini, who by marriage was inducted into this rarefied echelon, and who, after many years enduring its alienating excesses and the coercions it placed upon her as a woman, rejected it.

Al-Akkad also lived in Damascus during this time. Far from being ensconced in the velvet society as Mardini was, Al-Akkad still grew up in a country where this male-dominated wealthy elite controlled the wealth and politics of her society. Likewise, in her own social position, she also experienced how power was concentrated in and wielded by men and used often against women. In an art that is highly personal and based frequently on memory, she works to disentangle feelings of loss and death, creating vivid pieces of art, where humorous imagery jostles alongside soulful longing and dark remembrances.

 

Clothing and fabric are a contested site of power for and against women. Dressed in glamorous clothes, the beauty of women is objectified and used as currency in the velvet society’s game of excess, male gratification, politics, patronage, and money. Yet clothing also helped women situate themselves within a confusing social order and often helped them function potently and formidably within its strictures, with glamour and female sexuality itself a potent tool. But more than this, fabric sheltered these women, was an outlet for aesthetic joy, harboured their identities, histories, and, over time, became a seat of their memories.

 

Mardini and Al-Akkad found each other in exile in Lebanon in the 2010s and soon struck up a friendship founded on a mutual desire for expression and to redefine the place of women in the society from which they came. Velvet Society is one result of that relationship, an exploration of how, for these two women in 90s Damascus, fabric dazzled, lured, sheltered, bound, concealed, and, in time, changed.

VELVET SOCIETY: Curator-led Tour with the Artist, Heba Al-Akkad 25June 2022

Event Type
Gallery talk

Event Title
Curator-led Tour with the Artist

General Information
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.

Heba Al-Akkad
Artist
Litehouse Gallery

Raghad Mardini
Curator
Litehouse gallery


25th June, 3.00 – 4.00 pm

Partner/s Details
Arts Council England.

Event Coordinator
Raghad Mardini
Director
Litehouse Gallery Limited
Phone: +447497106676
Email: raghad@litehousegallery.com

VELVET SOCIETY: Social Fabrics: Interwoven Identities 30June 2022

Event Type
Gallery talk

Event Title
Social Fabrics: Interwoven Identities

General Information
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.

An award-winning Lebanese novelist, Hanan Al-Shaykh’s work is heavily influenced by the patriarchal controls under which she was raised. Al-Shaykh’s work is a social commentary on the status of women in the Arab-Muslim world, in which she challenges notions of sexuality, obedience, modesty, and familial relations. Hanan will be speaking about her novel, The Locust and the Bird: My Mother’s Story, which is a biography of a Muslim woman from Lebanon (her mother), who dared to make her own choices.

Humaydan is a Lebanese writer, researcher and creative writing professor, and author of four books. In her work, both literary and academic, Humaydan is concerned with memories of war and the lives of women. She is a co-founder and president of PEN Lebanon and a board member of PEN International. Iman will discuss the female image of the self and the female image of the other through the female protagonists in her last novel The Weight of Paradise.

Hanan Al Shaykh
Writer
Independent

Hanan al-Shaykh is one of the most acclaimed writers in the contemporary Arab world. She is the author of seven novels, including The Story of Zahra, Women of Sand & Myrrh, Beirut Blues, Only in London, as well as the collection of stories, I Sweep the Sun off Rooftops, and her much praised memoir of her mother’s life: The Locust and the Bird. She has written two plays, Dark Afternoon Tea and Paper Husband, and published One Thousand and One Nights, an adaptation of some of the stories from the legendary Alf Layla Wa Laya the Arabian Nights. Her latest novel, The Occasional Virgin, was published by Bloomsbury in 2018. Her work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. She lives in London.

Iman Humaydan
Writer and Professor
Independent

​​Iman Humaydan is a Lebanese writer, researcher and academic. She is the co-founder and current President of PEN Lebanon, and a board member of PEN International. She has worked in the field of cultural journalism and published four novels: B as in Beirut, Wild Mulberries, Other Lives and The Weight of Paradise. These have been translated into many international languages; most recently, Armenian and Georgian. Her last novel, The Weight of Paradise, won the Katara Prize, and its French translation was shortlisted for the 2017 Prix de la littérature arabe awarded by the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. Her writings tackle post-war and gender issues, memory, identity, language and migration. She aims to make women writers’ voices audible. Humaydan has also edited a collection of 15 short stories about Beirut entitled Beirut Noir, translated into English and published in 2015 by the New York publisher Akashic Books. She collaborated in writing the screenplay for the film “Here Comes the Rain”, which was based on her academic research on families of those who disappeared during the Lebanese civil war. The film won numerous Lebanese and international awards. Another screenplay, “Asmahan, Une Diva Orientale”, focused on the life of the Lebanese/Syrian singer Asmahan. Between 2007 and 2014, she taught creative writing at the University of Iowa and, since 2015, has been teaching creative writing in the Paris 8 University Saint-Denis, France. She is currently writing her fifth novel and lives between Paris and Beirut.

30th June, 6.30 – 7.30pm 

Partner/s Details
Arts Council England, Shubbak Festival.

Event Coordinator
Raghad Mardini
Director
Litehouse Gallery Limited
Phone: +447497106676
Email: raghad@litehousegallery.com

VELVET SOCIETY: Elena Cecchinato, Which Story, Whose Histories? 9July 2022

Event Type
Workshop

Event Title
Which Story, Whose Histories?

General Information
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.​​

Over two hours, the artists will facilitate participants in exploring fabrics, image making and archiving. This educational session includes:

  • Demonstration of different stitching techniques on paper
  • Live artwork making with photographs and thread or with fabrics
  • Live Q&A for students to ask the artist and the curator questions

Both images and clothes, with their signs and meanings, are necessary to our sense of space and charge our reality. They are vehicles and mediums to unite and conceive reality, working between the ‘I’ and the world, the interior and the exterior, the knowing and the doing. They allow an opportunity for us not to be subdued by the world, but rather interact with it, transforming it always into new narratives. As in a laboratory participants will explore their imaginations and memory via a “re-weaving” / “re-imaging” exercise. By learning how to embroider old photographs, we will directly experience how perception and memory itself is about change, reworking, reweaving.

Elena Cecchinato
Artist
Independent

Elena Cecchinato works in different mediums, primarily drawing, from a diverse range of sources including music, philosophy, economics, science and religion.  From these she creates densely layered imagery that both repeats and creates something entirely new. Recently her focus has been on the themes of invisibility, transformation and abstraction.

Cecchinato was born in Venice, Italy. She learned Korean and Chinese painting at Korea University in Seoul before obtaining an MA in the History of Art of Africa and Asia from SOAS, University of London. Her work has been shown internationally, as well as in London at the Westbourne Studios, Area 10Ps, and The Rug Factory. She has worked with the Royal Hospital for Integrated Medicine and the Warwick Festival of Literature and Spoken Word. The Museum of Everything has also featured Elena’s works, as part of its exhibition#2 at Tate Modern. Most recently she has shown Transpadovano at Palazzo Moroni, Padova, in Italy; Turf at Cutlog NY, USA; and has collaborated with the Roundabout.Lx Collective and the River of Thoughts Residency hosted by Olho du Boi, both in Lisbon, Portugal.

 

9th July, 2.30 – 4.30pm

 Partner/s Details
Arts Council England, Counterpoints Arts as part of Refugee Week

Event Coordinator
Raghad Mardini
Director
Litehouse Gallery Limited
Phone: +447497106676
Email: raghad@litehousegallery.com

VELVET SOCIETY: Webinar, Intersectional Feminism in the Middle East 16July 2022

Event Type
Talk

Event Title
Intersectional Feminism in the Middle East

General Information
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.

Rana Khoury, Creative Director and Social Entrepreneur, is behind most of the gender equality award winning campaigns coming out from the Arab region.
Her work has won many international awards amongst which 18 Cannes Lions, but also from D&AD, EPICA, EFFIES, CAPLES, LYNX to name a few. She also served in regional and international juries. She has dedicated the last years of her career to campaigns that would bring real change on the ground, and many of those she worked on have had a huge impact on the community in both Lebanon and the region and contributed to real change on institutional levels. Khoury also taught at the American University of Beirut a Creative Writing class for Media and Communication.
Recently, she established a social enterprise called “Phenomenal Women” that links women from difficult backgrounds, survivors of domestic violence, trafficking, sexual abuse and discrimination to training opportunities and job prospects.
More information on how to attend the online event will be released soon.
This event is promoted and supported by Arts Council England and Shubbak Festival.

Name: Rana Khoury
Title field: Designer and activist
Organisation: Phenomenal Women

Saturday 16th July, 6.30 – 7.30 pm

Partner/s Details
Arts Council England, Shubbak Festival.

Event Coordinator
Raghad Mardini
Director
Litehouse Gallery Limited
Phone: +447497106676
Email: raghad@litehousegallery.com

In Which Language do we dream?

16 October 2021
Impressions Gallery

We are familiar with the news headlines and the photographic images of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’. But what happens after displacement to those who are resettled and try to rebuild their lives? What about personal stories, and the relationships that form between new friends and new neighbors? And how do people hold on to loved ones and a past life that they had to leave behind? In Which Language Do We Dream? offers fresh insights into these issues, through the photographic perspectives of a Syrian family with first-hand experience.

The overarching questions/provocations of the symposium are:

How might photography ethically represent refugee stories?
How do displaced artists work between cultures and across borders?
Can photographs help change the traditional media narratives around forced migration?

A rich and provocative presentations and discussion by Rich Wiles, Anan Tello, Andrew Jackson, Gohar Dashti, and Ala Busier chaired by Raghad Mardini

The symposium is part of Platforma 6 that is taking place across Yorkshire throughout October 2021, produced by Counterpoints Arts in partnership with more than 20 different organizations, artists and collectives. This biennial festival for the arts by, with and about refugees. It brings together artists, organizations, and others to showcase work, develop networks and capacity, share practice and to learn.







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