One central idea drove civil engineer, art lover, and collector, Raghad Mardini, to create LiteHouse Gallery in February 2017: Syrian people are not simply victims or refugees, they are also talented and creative human beings.
Based in London, LiteHouse Gallery is a new hub for Syrian artists in exile. It is the first space to offer to exhibit Syrian contemporary art online. It also provides an opportunity to connect digitally with painters, sculptors and multimedia artists. “The gallery promotes new talents and established artists, supporting them in achieving success on the market, creating links with colleagues, the audience and ultimately with collectors,” explains Raghad, who was born and raised in Damascus, but has lived in London since 2015.
LiteHouse aims to popularize contemporary Syrian art in the United Kingdom and Europe through public exhibitions, talks, and workshops. While the events will primarily be held in the UK, they will be made available online for audiences who cannot attend in person.
A Different Perspective on Syrian Art
Today, Syrian artists are burdened not only with the struggles of their daily lives, but also with the consequences of their country’s war. “This is why it is more important than ever to have a space that supports artists,” Raghad told Muftah. “At the same time, we aim to change the image of destruction and displacement Syrians are often identified with because of the civil war.”
LiteHouse offers a different narrative on Syrian art, one that will not solely show images of loss, sadness, and hardship. “The vast majority of the artwork will tackle different subjects like the beauty of life, the cheerful soul of the country. Artists abandon dark colors to use bright ones instead. The resilience of these artists makes life win over death in the end,” Raghad says, “I want to emphasize the true image of art in these hard times for Syrians because artists play an important and effective role in the peace building process.”
The gallery works with established and emerging Syrian artists, such as Mohammed Labash, Heba Akkad, Abdulkarim Majdal Al Beik, Shada Safadi, Nour Assalia, Adel Daoud and many others. Their work spans various mediums, including painting, sculpture, art performance, video art, etching, and photography. For some of these artists, as painter Adel Daoud explains, “the big advantage of the gallery is that it is located in London and acts as a bridge between artists.”
The Beginning of a New Project
LiteHouse Gallery was launched in February 2017, during a fundraising evening for the Austrian charity, Echo100Plus. “Despite the rain and the awful weather, the event was well attended and many of the guests showed their appreciation and interest for the exhibited artwork. I firmly believe contemporary Syrian art can become very successful in the United Kingdom’s market because our artists are very talented,” Raghad says proudly.
The gallery is just beginning to establish itself in the London art scene. Currently, it only has an online presence, advertising events primarily on its Facebook page, but a physical gallery is planned for the future. A new website was also recently launched.
This summer, several events, including exhibitions, workshops and artist talks, will take place. This month, the gallery has two different exhibits, for visual artist Iman Hasbani and Alina Amer at the Shubbak Festival. According to its website, Shubbak is London’s largest biennial festival of contemporary Arab culture. Litehouse also had an exhibition in London’s Kensington neighborhood on July 4 and participated in the city’s Refugee Week, with an exhibition entitled “Reflections,” at the Arab British Centre of London on June 22. The gallery will have a showing in Japan on July 11.
LiteHouse Gallery and Art Residence Aley
LiteHouse Gallery maintains close links with artists who have worked with the Art Residence Aley (ARA). Founded in 2012, ARA is a residency for Syrian artists and was Raghad’s first art-related project.
Before coming to London, Raghad was living in Beirut, Lebanon. In 2011, when the Syrian exodus began, she founded ARA in Aley, a village in the mountains not far from the Lebanese capital. With her own funds, she renovated old Ottoman-era stables, turning them into a lively residence for Syrian artists fleeing the war.
“Since I came to Lebanon, I was fascinated by old places. I found a house in Aley and I fell in love with it: the ancient stones captivated me, the old walnut tree, tired but still alive, touched my heart, the energy of the place enchanted me. As a civil engineer, I saw the opportunity to turn the place into something symbolic and productive,” she recalls. Within a year, she had made the house into an oasis for young Syrian artists, as well as an established forum for the production and sharing of Syrian art.
Every month, ARA hosts one or two artists, providing living costs, materials, and a stipend. The central spirit of ARA, which still operates today, is the right to a safe environment for free expression. In its first five years, ARA has hosted fifty-seven artists who have produced hundreds of works. Some of these pieces are currently showcased in museums and galleries all over Europe, the United States, and in a few Arab countries, such as Kuwait and Lebanon.
ARA has received support from and been praised by various local and foreign organizations, such as UNHCR and the British Council, among others. In 2015, ARA collaborated with UNHCR to produce a book entitled Syrian Art in Hard Times, which showcases the work of fifty-two artists.
Because of the ongoing war, Syria’s most significant cultural and historical artifacts and institutions are in danger of being lost. Thanks, however, to daring people like Raghad Mardini, Syrian artists have an opportunity to preserve and share their precious culture, creating hope and building connections in a time of conflict.