It has been dubbed the “House of Mirrors” and “the strangest house in the Gulf” and although we’ve lived in Kuwait for 7 years, I had still not visited this amazing creation of Lidia Qattan.
I had heard about it but never made it on any of the organized visits so, when the IWG (International Women’s Group) organized one this week, I rushed to sign up. I was so excited and last night researched ahead to prepare myself for what I would see today. I also checked to make sure that the address existed on my GPS so I would get there by 10am sharp. Unfortunately, the traffic was exceptionally bad and to add to that – I took one turning too early and ended up in a busier part of town! I was horrifyingly late.
Thankfully, having seen photos of the villa during my research last night, it was easy not to miss it once I arrived on Street 94 of Qadisiya Block 9. Indeed the exterior wall of the villa was covered in shards of broken mirror!
The sun played tricks on my eyes and the gigantic butterflies danced in its reflection on the mirror mosaic. I was breathless, and this was only the beginning of what beckoned inside.
I wandered inside the open door which, of course, was covered in mirror too, entered the courtyard, through another door and found the ladies there. I easily picked out our petite and vivacious hostess, outstanding in her transparent long lace dress, said hello, extended my hand and apologised profusely for being late.
Then, I sat in awe at what confronted me. “Mirror art” was everywhere. On the walls, the ceiling, even the floor. Every bit of furniture had been painstakingly and ornately covered with pieces of broken mirror, including the ceiling fan above us.
And this was only the drawing room. I could see into the adjoining kitchen and everything, yes, even the kitchen sink was engulfed by this wonderful art form.
Lidia being the very hospitable hostess served us coffee which she made herself followed by bread rolls with egg or labneh.
Then she began her story. She must have told it a thousand or more times over and yet, I can believe that she spoke with the same passionate voice and left out no detail.
Lidia explained that she was often inspired to create her own works of art to impress her famous Kuwaiti artist-husband, the late Khalifa Al-Qattan, and would carry out her creative pursuits while he was away exhibiting his own art abroad somewhere.
In 1966, Khalifa was invited to hold an art exhibition in Washington DC, for the official opening of the Kuwaiti Embassy in the USA. On the occasion, Khalifa and Tarak Rajeb organized a collective exhibition to give to the American public a comprehensive view of the art movement in Kuwait.
Usually when Khalifa was going abroad, I loved to surprise him at his return with something new in the home. He had made a cabinet before leaving, which I thought to paint, but when I could not find some suitable paint in the house, I decided to cover it with pieces of mirror.
Sometime before, Jalila, our little daughter had broken a large mirror, but instead of throwing it away I kept it. I took out the pieces and realizing I had enough to make an abstract composition on to the cabinet, I got ready to work. The only glue available in the house consisted of granules that had to be smelted on a low fire, with it I began to stick the larger pieces to create an abstract motive and filled in the small spaces with the rest of the mirror.
When the whole work was set and dry, I covered the entire surface with a putty of white cement and water, cleaned it, and using a carpenter’s file I smoothened every sharp edge I could find. To further reassure myself, the mirror was safe for my little girl to touch, I applied a second layer of putty on to the whole surface, then cleaned it.
When I set back to judge the finished work I was pleased with the result. The cabinet had been transformed into a piece of art that added a new dimension to the place, but I was anxious of Khalifa’s reaction at his return. When Khalifa saw it, he was indeed surprised, he also complimented me; his approval was all I had been waiting for.
I didn’t know then, that the cabinet would be the beginning of a major project that would transform the house itself into a unique work of art making it a landmark in the district of Qadsiya, on the outskirts of Kuwait city.
That cabinet is captured here in this photograph…see if you can spot it…
This project marked the beginning of her own transformation into an artist in her own right. So unique is this transformation that her own home has been her canvas. Lidia devoted many years since that very first cabinet to painstakingly create various rooms in her villa using broken mirror pieces, perfecting her technique as she went along.
Seventy-seven tons of mirror, 102 gallons of white glue, 44 tons of white cement later, Lidia has created her art inside and outside her villa.
She created shooting stars on the ceiling, Quranic quotes on the walls and intricate patterns on the floor.
The bathroom glitters with mirrored swordfish and seaweed, swirling waves and leaping fish. Even the toilet lid has golden rays emanating from a blue centre.
Every room in the villa has a carefully selected theme but when I asked Lidia if she draws up a detailed plan and specifications before she starts working on a room, she answers, “No, I don’t. I know what I want to create and I know where everything goes. I just do it. Its like when I cook, you know, I don’t use recetas…I just put a bit of this, a dash of that…” That’s how all artists work I guess.
She gives every room a name.The drawing room is “Planet Earth” with its mosaics of plants and fish. On the ceiling she has used multi-coloured mirrors to create the entire solar system.
Across from the drawing room, now grown-up Jalila’s bedroom is called the “Zodiac Room”. Here Lidia has created every single zodiac sign with mirror and the various constellations and galaxies from glow-in-the-dark stars and planets.
The hallway has a dual theme and is called “Shark Hall” and “Corridor of Nations”. The bathroom is appropriately called “Sea World” of course and the bedroom is called “The Universe”.
The library Lidia calls the “Room of Knowledge”. It is filled with her collection of books from floor to ceiling and although there’s not much room for decoration in here, Lidia has put her magic touch on the edges of the bookshelves and the sides of the shelves!
The “Stairs of Inspiration” lead to the first floor where Lidia and Khalifa have their painting studios and exhibit their work.
Visits to Lidia Qattan’s “House of Mirrors” have been described as a “quirky art-in-action experience” but I have to say its more than that. Lidia Qattan (born Lidia Scagnolari in Italy 72 years ago) is a very special lady and being in that house with her, listening to her and looking at her work is one of the experiences I will never forget. For her, the “House of Mirrors”, was the “fulfilment of a dream”.
In her own words,
What makes humanity special is its propensity to be driven by a dream. The very special feature of the human brain is imagination; imagination flares our dreams and often makes them persistent and obsessive; as such they spur our mental faculties to create and invent ways that lead to their realization.
Everyone has a dream he or she wishes to fulfill; my dream was to create my own private world of beauty and inspiration. I was lucky to be married to the right man, who encouraged me in anything I was doing and I had both the mental disposition and the means for the realization of my dream.
Thank you, Lidia, for welcoming us into your home and into your heart today!