My friends always ask me “Why do you keep going to the House of Mirrors?”
One of Kuwait’s best kept secrets, I have been to the House of Mirrors atleast 15 times. Every time I go, there is something else to look at and something else to learn. I have learned so much from, Lydia Al-Qattan, the creator of the House of Mirrors, that I decided to share the story behind it.
Turn Negative into Positive
People used to believe that mirrors were magical and held the future to the human soul, and therefore breaking a mirror would shatter your future and your soul for the next 7 years, bringing you nothing but bad luck. Now whether you do or you do not believe in bad luck, I think it is fair to assume that the average person would not be pleased if their young child broke a huge mirror in the house. Not Al-Qattan though.
When her daughter broke a mirror in 1966 she decided to keep the pieces of shattered glass and use them to create a pop art piece as a gift for her late husband Khalifa Al-Qattan, a pioneering Kuwaiti artist who had local exhibitions as well as being the first Kuwaiti to hold exhibitions abroad. At the time her daughter broke the mirror, her husband had been invited to hold an art exhibition for the opening of the Kuwait Embassy in Washington D.C.
Think Outside the Circle
A few years later in 1972, Al-Qattan’s daughter asked for her own room so she could invite her friends from school over, so Al-Qattan broke down a few walls around the house, and created a new room for her daughter. And not a had week passed before her daughter had artistically scribbled on the walls. Al-Qattan tried to wash them off, but that only left ugly patches around the wall. So she thought of a permanent yet creative solution. She decided to stick glass mirrors to the walls. So she started breaking panels of mirrors, by throwing them from “as high as I could go, and what comes, comes.” It worked and she again made a positive situation from a child’s annoying act.
Not to Give Up
A few more years passed on and Al- Qattan started noticing a dark color forming on the walls between the mirrors. At first she assumed it was dampness from the bathroom behind the living room. She later found out it was termites, eating the house and its structure away. Instead of giving up on the house and the idea of having mirrors around, she got a crow bar, and started removing her previous mosaiced mirrors and cleaning the walls with kerosene.
She redid the whole house and this time gave each room a theme and a concept. She wanted to test if her new cement mix would work and found that a great test was to let the kids in the neighborhood play with their nabata (slingshot). They threw stones at the mosaiced animals on the exterior of the house; “I let them, some of the mirrors would split but none of the pieces would fall off, and to me that was a good sign,” she laughs. And that’s how a child’s innocent mistake became Kuwait’s most unique experience.
Make Bold Decisions
Al-Qattan is from a northern Italian town called Ferrara, but what made her move to Kuwait? “If you knew why I came to Kuwait, you would laugh. It is because of my knee!" She goes on to say, “Kuwaitis are quite conservative with their feelings, they don’t really tell you how they feel. I was really good with friends with Khalifa in England where he was studying to become an engineer, and he never made me realize that he liked me. Which was nice, because we got to do things together, like movies or the student's club.”
Al-Qattan initially went to the UK to be a student nurse because she couldn’t find a job as a teacher in her native Italy. Her worldly possessions were a new pair of shoes, a “Teach Yourself English” book, passport and train tickets. Two lectures from a judge and a bishop later, with no money, she was determined to make it in the UK. Three months after arriving in the UK she met her late husband in an English examination waiting room and they hit it off. She moved with him to Kuwait because she liked the idea of being somewhere warm as her knees were in pain because of the cold.
Know There Are No Limits to Creativity
They got to Kuwait in the 1960s and started experimenting with art, her husband became a pioneering artist in the region and was successful internationally as well as locally. Al-Qattan started working with her hands as well. She loved experimenting with art when she was fed up with writing. In 2001 she had her first art therapy exhibition, combining art, music and flashing lights. You can see most of her art therapy pieces at the House of Mirrors, and there is also a room dedicated to art therapy.
Her art therapy pieces are not just for therapy but they all come from recycled objects, like car par ts and other home appliances. Al-Qattan strongly advocates recycling because she believes in creating a sustainable economy, she says that in order for this world to go on; “we need to recycle everything we use.” Each art piece also has its own message, some speak about unions in society, women's rights, human DNA and quantum physics.
Make A Difference With What You Love
Al-Qattan also thinks creativity is imperative. When describing what makes her proud about her house, she explains, "I see people that come in sad and leave happy. And that makes me happy. I want people to leave inspired, leave thinking about things and wonder if they ever left anything behind.”
The House of Mirrors is located in Block 9, Al-Qadsiya, Kuwait and is open 9am until 6pm, 7 days a week. To book an appointment with Lydia Al-Qattan, call +965 22518522
– Fajer Ahmed
Photography by Fahad Al-Nusf