By Meryl Mathew
Exclusive to The Times Kuwait

The rich history of Kuwait and its culture, depicted through its architecture, art and lifestyle that developed over the ages, as well as from the influence of the wider Arab and Islamic world, are showcased across museums in the country. Here we look at some of these museums that provide a peep into the history and culture of Kuwait…

The Mirror House: Khalifa Qattan, a pioneer artist in Kuwait and Lidia Qattan first moved into their home in 1960. Lidia, who was not originally an artist, found inspiration from a mirror that her daughter had broken and decided to use mirrors to decorate a cabinet made by her husband. This soon turned into a full-fledged project of mirror work on all the walls of the house, which also worked to prevent her daughter Jalila from writing and drawing on the walls. The mirrors stuck on the wooden panels were deliberately large so that Jalila could still draw or write on the walls, but Lidia could clean it easily after that. She worked on her project every time her husband was traveling for his international exhibitions. In 1979 she completed the first phase of her work.

Sadly, she discovered termites within the main halls wooden panels that destroyed a lot of her work and required her to redo it. She did not give up though, but she spent most of 1980-1984 learning and experimenting different techniques on how to fix the mirrors onto the walls directly. In 1985 when her husband traveled for another project, she once again started to decorate the place with her mirror designs including the floors with her new technique.

She has worked and redone the external wall three times, the entrance door frames five times and the outside entrance six times. She has intermittently worked on decorating the entire place wall by wall till 2006 completing the 3rd phase after her husband passed away in 2003. Before her husband died it was his wish to turn the house into a museum, and thus the Mirror House was opened to the public in 2013.

It was indeed quite inspirational to meet a strong passionate personality like Lidia Qattan who at her age of 85 till recently also constantly retouched her work around the house. She has also worked as a writer with the Arab Times from 1995 to 2019 and has published two books: Rulers of Kuwait and Prophesy of Khalifa Qattan.

Each room at the mirror house is unique with a mysterious touch and a story to tell. Her passion for the science in the universe and its elements, earth and its nature, life and all living things is represented in each of these rooms. Her artwork around the house also involves a lot of reuse and recycling as she has always been passionate about giving new life. When you take a tour with Lidia, you would unknowingly immerse yourself into each room as you listen to her stories just like a child listening to a bedtime story and you would also find yourself lost in each design and pattern she has created.

As you move to the top floor of the house you would come to another world that displays Khalifa Qattan’s internationally recognized paintings, awards, and recognitions. His most prized award being the recognition he received from the Amir of Sharjah in 1993 as The Artist of the Year in the Arab world. Among the many paintings you will also find paintings that represent Khalifa Qattans art style created in 1962 called ‘Circlism’.

What makes the tour even more interesting is how transparent and detailed she was in describing each painting. She describes how her husband was an artist who was hated and loved at the same time, as his paintings boldly depicted the truth always. Some of his work also showed his respect and value for women because he loved his mother very much.

The Qattan’s equal passion for the earth and mother nature can also be seen in a lot of their work. “The choices we make not only affect us but also our planet”, says Lidia. Khalifa’s work is also centered around Kuwait’s issues in terms of family, social relationships, responsibility, creation, and the economy. All together the tour around the Mirror House is indeed a fantastic experience especially that the artist herself takes the tours making it most definitely a historic journey.

Sadu House: The Sadu House was launched in 1979 in the form of a special project called Al Sadu as a measure to preserve the art of Sadu weaving and related textile arts. Since then, they have strived towards keeping this rich cultural textile heritage and weaving traditions alive through teaching and promoting innovative product designs in textile. In 1991, the project was transformed into a self-sustained weaving cooperative, with shares owned by the weavers.

Mainly concerned with Al Sadu and the Bisht cloth which convey the nomadic and urban people’s cultural heritage in Kuwait and the Arabian Peninsula, the Sadu House adds a lot to the understanding of the cultural heritage of Kuwait, its social identity and future development. With the vision to preserve and inspire, the house has been passionately running till date to protect and salvage the remaining hand skills and traditions related to traditional textile weaving in Kuwait.

On a tour around the Sadu House the first thing that would capture your mind is the building itself that conveys Kuwait’s history and heritage. Built in 1936 by Yousef Al Marzouq a prominent merchant on the traditional Kuwaiti architecture of open courtyards, the house, first of its kind in Kuwait, reflects many Indian decorative influences exemplified in the wooden patterns and motifs on the doors, wooden windows, coffers and wall cabinets although it was built solely by Kuwaitis under the supervision of the famous Kuwaiti Builder Rashid Al Benai. This historic reflection recharges and highlights the rich textiles that are displayed in the various halls and rooms.

The museum has a colorful display of woven objects set in a style such that the story of Kuwait’s weaving history is entailed in the form of a visual narrative. This including clear descriptions on how sheep’s wool, goat and camel hair, was used back in the days either in its natural color or dyed with plant dyes to create yarns that were laid out in a weaving structure like the horizontal ground loom that was used to weave tents and other everyday items used by the Bedouins such as storage bags, camel decorations and men’s cloaks-Bisht.

The house also hosts several regular programs such as weaving workshops for kids and adults, exhibitions like Weaving stories and SADI that act as interactive platform which hosts traditional artists and their work and the Sadi Studio launched in 2019, the latest addition to the house that acts a creative space for design and innovation in textile arts.

The Sadu House in essence and altogether seeks to advance conversations between the past, present, and future of Kuwait’s textile heritage as a unique tradition, and ever evolving cultural identity.

Meryl Mathew is a Freight Development Specialist by profession, a writer by passion and an upcycling hobbyist. She involves herself in a lot of multicultural events across Kuwait. You can find her on Muckrack (meryl-mathew) and on Instagram @Meryl_elizebeth_mathew or @create.kuwait

[We continue our coverage of local cultural venues with Part 2 of Meryl Mathew’s ‘A Cultural-Walk through Museums in Kuwait’ — Ed]

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