VELVET SOCIETY: Power and Glamour in 90s Damascus


23rd June – 23rd July 2022

Press View 12 – 7pm, Thursday 23rd June

Private View 7 – 9pm, Thursday 23rd June



Heba Alkkad and Raghad Mardini in Dialogue




P21 Gallery, in a collaboration with Litehouse Gallery, is honoured to present the first UK exhibition of creative acts of survival, Velvet Society tells the story of artist Heba Alakkad and civil engineer Raghad Mardini. Two Syrian Muslim women from different backgrounds, they connected through the creativity of visual arts. Viewers can bear witness to their testimonies of liberation from religious and patriarchal violence. Photographs, art objects and items of fashion are displayed to create a commentary on feminism, female freedom, and Syrian history, linked by the medium of textiles.


Textiles carry powerful signs of non-verbal communication. Whether in the context of fashion or as an artistic medium, fabric covers us, representing individual identities that can be played with, disrupted, and challenged. Scraps of fabric wear with age, as do our bodies marked by class, gender, and culture. Clothing can conceal and reveal feelings and symbolically perform shifting social values.


By bringing these stories to UK audiences in a seductive display we’ll allow fashion fans and art lovers alike to consider the political nature of clothing and how it shapes the representation of women in fashion, society, and art. Audience’s beliefs about Middle Eastern women will be challenged, and they will have the opportunity to learn creatively about recent Syrian history.


Alakkad 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 she suffered since girlhood. She has had solo shows across Europe and the Middle East. Litehouse has commissioned work from Alakkad on the themes of self-identity and dress.


We will show Mardini’s 1990s photos from her archive in Damascus at ‘social’ events with the velvet society, a figurative term for business and power men following her induction into and eventual rejection of this system. These will be shown alongside clothes by western designers including Dior, Versace, Mugler, Chanel, Galliano, YSL, Alaia and Syrian designer Nicola Khoury. Our exhibition does not just celebrate glamour but questions the weaponizing of female sexuality into the game of politics and money.


“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.”


- Prof. Janis Jefferies, Emeritus Professor of Visual Arts, Goldsmiths, University of London



Program of Events


Thursday 23rd June, 7.00 – 9.00 pm - Private View, features 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, 11.00 – 1.00 pmSelf-Identity and Clothing. This free workshop hosted by artist Heba Alakkad is aimed at children and young people. Using textile and puppetry techniques participants will explore self-identity and clothes coding, by creating their own figures using textile and cardboard boxes. Bring an old photo that means to you. All materials will be provided. All ages under 14; parents are welcome to be present.


Saturday 25th June, 3.00 – 4.00 pmExhibition Tour for Everyone! An opportunity to learn about the exhibition from the artist Heba Alakkad and curator Raghad Mardini in person, accompanied by a British Sign Language interpreter. Entry is free.


Thursday 30th June, 6.30 – 7.30 pm Social Fabrics: Interwoven Identities. A live panel presenting the famous Lebanese novelists Hanan Al Shaykh speaking about her book “The locust and the bird-my mother’s story” and Iman Humaydan speaking about her latest book “The weight of Paradise” exploring the female’s characters of their novels and the societal causes they reflect. Entry is free but please book in advance.


Saturday 9th July, 2.30 – 4.30 pmWhich 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 via a stitching and weaving process that will spark new visual conversations with time and memory. Bring an old photo that means to you. All materials will be provided.

The second part of this workshop will take place at Garrett Anderson secondary school.


Saturday 16th July, 6.30 – 7.30 pmIntersectional Feminism of 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.



This program of events is supported by Shubbak Festival and Counterpoints Arts as part of Refugee Week.



Presented by – Litehouse Gallery supported by the Arts Council England



Litehouse Gallery was founded in London, UK in 2017 by Raghad Mardini in order 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 to enable them to make art again. ARA also curated exhibitions and performances worldwide.


Entry is free. No appointment necessary. Wheelchair accessible




For further exhibition information, press images and interview opportunities, please contact:

P21 gallery:, Tel. 020 7121 6190

Litehouse Gallery:, Tel. 078 3370 0984,