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.

Syria at Christmas Lines of Communication 12 December, 2020

12 – 6pm Saturday 12th December 2020

St Anne’s Church, Soho,  55 Dean Street, London 

In this illuminating speech, the Director of Litehouse Gallery, Raghad Mardini speaks about the ideas behind the Syria at Christmas exhibition. She opens her heart about her personal journey from Syria to London, and acknowledges the importance of Art and Artists in her life, and in preserving Syrian cultural heritage.
Date: 12 December 2020 at St Annes’ Church Soho, London


Too many Syrian families face yet another difficult time this Christmas.  Syria’s on-going war compounded by the Covid -19 pandemic has forced so many to live apart.  Here in Britain two organisations have decided to work together to create

• A heart- warming ‘soundscape’ of voices
Families chatting away together over the phone from Britain to Syria, Beirut, Canada and the rest of world, some animated, curated by Family Talk

• An intimate collation of pictures 
A beautiful montage of personal family photos shared by participants, photographers and prestigious artists, curated by Litehouse Gallery

• Artwork “ Wedding” 2020 by Syrian Artist Houssam Ballam
On display and auction

• Informal talk 
Raghad Mardini, founder of Litehouse.

“Home through the Artists Eyes” 9-10 October 2020 London

Litehouse Gallery presents

Contemporary Stories Through Artists’ Eyes

9th – 10th October 2020
At the Freeman Foundation, 235 A Portobello Road, London W11 1LT

This pop-up exhibition is an immediate response to the recent tragic blast in Beirut’s port that destroyed thousands of houses, leaving thousands of Syrian and Lebanese people homeless.

The exhibition will take you on a journey that crosses borders in search of a transnational identity that is multi-layered, at times displaced, yet intact and coherent. The stories and artworks are lyrical metaphors of the artist’s current circumstances, everyday experiences and dreams of homecoming, whilst raising questions about the elsewhere and the space in-between places.

Home is a feeling. Home is a landscape and a vision of our intimate being and desires. Home is co-creating with others a shared sense of belonging. This group show explores these themes with the aim of rediscovering the roots of a common culture, at the same time as offering a place and a space where artists can express their cultural identity and belonging.

Home: Contemporary Stories Through Artists’ Eye is a rare opportunity to view artworks by our Syrian and British artists.

Through the transformative power of art we can transcend dislocation, transform the pain of physical exile, resolve the contradiction of past and present, and overcome instability, dispossession and loss. Home is where the Art is.

Dates and Opening Hours, Private Opening Friday 9th October 2020 @ 6:00-9:00 PM
Saturday 10th October 2020 @ 11:00 AM -8 PM
Venue – The Freeman Foundation, 235 A Portobello Road, London W11 1LT
Entrance from Hayden’s Place
Curated by – Raghad Mardini

Artworks by Artists -¬¬ Shadi Abu Saada, Heba Akkad, Farah Azrak, Tamman Azzam, Adel Daoud, Assem Hamsho, Fadi Hamwi, Mohamad Labash, Ghylan Safaldi, Iman Hasban, Noha Zayed, Chris Ward, Susana Giron.

Photos © Chris Ward And Twiggles_UK

Colours of Syria 14 March, 2019 London

The pop-up art exhibition ‘Colours of Syria’ presents the awe-inspiring natural landscape of Syria in glorious colour. The paintings and collages on display are infused with the essential beauty and energy of this country. Meanwhile, drawings and photographs in rich tones and darker shades give expression to the inner resilience of Syrian people.

Malva’s painting ‘Willow Tree’, in shades of olive, eau-de-nil and ochre, takes us to one of Syria’s verdant valleys, with weeping willow branches trailing in a shimmering river. Akil Ahmad’s more abstract paintings, with their dynamic calligraphic marks in golden beige and luminous scarlet, evoke Syria’s wide, open spaces. One, inspired by a poem by the first-century writer Al-Mutanabi, conjures up a misty dawn, and the other, a sunset. Adib Fattal’s crayon drawings in magenta, hot pink and turquoise, with titles such as ‘Palmyra’, ‘Damascus Citadel’, ‘The Hosn Castle’, depict historic places in Syria. They remind us of the intense play of sunlight on the brightly coloured architecture, and of the pattern-making and exuberant use of colour in traditional Syrian textiles and mosaics.

In luminous black & white photographs by Assem Hamsho, we are presented with his vision of a moment or place. We see the patterns of shadows of people at leisure, the play of light and shade. Jaber Alwan portrays an elegant and beautiful woman, the green and yellow and red of her dress dazzling in the darkness, as she dreams, or imagines, or waits. Of Adel Daood’s paintings, the art historian Clara Kaufmann writes:
“They are portraits of human nature or humanity itself, portraits of felt, sensed, lived and imagined lives. Dauood’s inspiration pieces his pictures together: a foot here, a face there, arms growing out of a vortex of lines, body parts and bright colours.”


The following artists complete the line-up of ‘Colours of Syria’, with artworks that touch on story-telling or allude to intense psychological states via vivid colours and dynamic patterns and lines: Shadi Abou Saada, Hiba Akkad, Farah Azrak, Tammam Azzam, Fadi Hamwi, Mohamad Labash and Gylan Safadi.

‘Colours of Syria’ gives a rare opportunity to view, especially, artworks by Malva and Jaber Alwan in London. Both are prominent artists who have shown widely in the USA and Europe, and who feature in major museum collections; Malva sadly passed away in 2016.

‘Colours of Syria’ is presented by Litehouse Gallery, a start-up online platform linked to ‘Art Residence Aley’, an art residency programme founded by Raghad Mardini in Lebanon in 2012, which supports Syrian artists, including through the promotion and sale of their artworks worldwide. Raghad Mardini, the Director of Litehouse Gallery, welcomes you to this pop-up exhibition of art that she has specially selected with a view to bringing Syrian colour, energy and creativity to London homes. As Ms Mardini says: “Art does not need an excuse to exist, it exists according to its own power, for its own sake, for its miracle of being contradictory to our daily existence, telling us how beautiful we are.”

Homes, Syrian stories through artists’ eyes 05 May 2018 Milano

05.05.2018 – 20.05.2018

Spazio delle culture – Khaled al’Asaad

The cultural association L’Art9 together with the London-based Litehouse Gallery present the artistic festival “Homes. Syrian stories through artists’ eyes designed to give forms and voice to Syrian culture beyond the borders of origin.

In Syria, since 2011, the civil war has caused 5 million refugees. The aim of the festival is to group together the voices dispersed by the diaspora with the aim of rediscovering the roots of the common culture to give a place and a space where to express their strong cultural identity.

After the exhibition “Ahora Cuba”, on the transition and intergenerational dialogue in Cuba, Agnese Gallo and Silva Amoruso, 27 and 28, founders of L’Art9, together with their partner Raghad Mardini, curator and founder of Lithouse in London and of Residence Aley, artistic residence in Beirut conceived for young creatives refugees, have imagined “Homes. Syrian stories through artists’ eyes “to give a place of expression to Syrian artists in transit.

The project is structured as a real journey, organized in stages and with different contents. It is a dynamic project, which involves talents for whom the only constraint remains a non-negotiable identity despite the loss of social anchorages. The stories, performances and works on show will be stories of individuals – megaphone of a dislocated community, in spite of itself, in a global territory. The festival aims to raise awareness not only of history and events that have taken place and tragedies that have marked the lives of many, but also to sustain and to put attention to the projects and future desires of the Syrian people.

Launched with a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels, the festival will be organized in several stages: Milan, Venice, London and Brussels. It will start in Milan from the Museum of Cultures, where from 5 May to 20 May will be exhibited the works of: Farah Azrak, Tammam Azzam, Adel Daoud, Araz Farra, Adib Fattal, Manaf Halbanou, Mohammad Labash, Shadi Abou Saada, Mohammad Zaza . The exhibition will be essential, changeable, just like the stages of a journey.

Paper drawings in small format  and video-art contained in a usb stick will be at the center of the exhibition: art works and artistic expressions easily transportable. The exhibition aims to be a theater for the promotion of intercultural dialogue, inviting visitors to participate in the curatorial selection of the exhibition. 

Syria: A Living History Through Artists’ Eyes 12 Feb 2018 London

Showcases the work of 14 Syrian artists. An amalgamation of their individual responses and perspectives to the chaos and distress of our time, the exhibition explores the depths of personal grief, and the capacity of the human spirit to love and hope in the face of the abyss.


Participating Artists:


Adel Daoud

Mohamad Labash

Farah Azrak

Heba Akkad

Randa Mdah

Semaan Khawam

Tammam Azzam

Suhail Badour

Mahmoud Majda

Nizar Sabour

Ghylan Safadi

Shadi Abu Saada

Fadi Hamwi

Ghassan Jdeid

The evening started with a Musical performance on oud and percussion by Rihab Azar and Jamal Sakka, followed by a Reading by author and illustrator of ” The Jasmine Sneeze” Nadine Kaadan and the highlight of the event was the Storytelling performance by Alia Al-Zoughbi.

Through Artists’ eyes – Contemporary Syrian Art 11-14 July 2017 Japan

Through Artists' eyes- Contemporary Syrian Art

Nara-Japan 11-14 July 2017

Through Artists’ Eyes is an amalgamation of individual perspectives threaded together by the chaos and distress of the time. In their own ways, they deliver strong messages to the communities around the world and offer an exclusive insight into the reality of life in the times of conflict.

An Exhibition parallel to Nara Kasugano International Forum for Saving The Syrian Cultural Heritage for the next generation-Palmyra, organized by the Archeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture and supported by United Nations Development Programme Syria and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Heba Akkad, a young artist currently living in exile in Sweden, suffered from severe distress, alone in a country she does not know and separated from her loved ones. Soon, however, she began to use her imagination and creativity to produce art as her solace to overtake her pains. She successfully tried to detangle the feelings of loss and death and began to create colorful and bright pieces of art bridging her past, present, and future.

Farah Azrak, similarly to Akkad, tries to bring out her individual perspective separating herself from the general common picture. Living in the constant flux of place and belonging, dispersed in all directions, and the never-ending anxiety of these times, she chooses collage as her tool of expression in movement and imagination. She cuts out accumulated images and uses the scissors to destroy, deconstruct and reconstruct them into her own imageries, leaving a strong impression on the viewer.

Nevertheless, isolation from the darkness is not the only way to deal with the experience. Artists like Adel Daoud, Muhammad Labash, Ghylan Al Safadi, incorporate the dark element into their artworks. Daoud’s monochromatic beasts portray a sensitive take on the childhood memory and his current representation of them. Using different paper manipulations and techniques, he brings out details allowing the viewer a gentle approach to these savage beasts. While Muhammad Labash’s paperwork act as vivid studies of his imagination building on the refine use of line and brush to alter surfaces and landscapes. His works are gateways to his mind and how he sees the world around him. Ghylan’s graphic almost comic images represent scenes of life under pressure and the absence of light in the memories held in the mind. Lastly, Shadi Abu Saada’s colored paperwork are renderings of everyday life using the technique of layering to add dimension to what is seen and what can be seen in different perspectives.