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Velvet Society – المجتمع المخملي: Power and Glamour in 90s Damascus, Syria
June 23 – July 23
About The ExhibitionLitehouse 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. .
Programme of EventsAlongside 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.
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