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Sultana Kazim is an artist, curator, art coordinator and haute couture fashion designer Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan

A glistening golden metal falcon sits regally atop a colossal two-storey villa on Dubai’s Al Wasl Road in Umm Sequiem 1. Amidst the row of houses, The Falcon Villa stands apart, thanks to its sheer size.

Shaded by a row of tall palm trees the mansion glows in a coat of white paint and arriving at its entrance feels like stepping into a bygone era. Built in the eighties as a family home by the late Dr. Ahmad Kazim, the first Emirati surgeon in the UAE, it is today the peaceful abode of his wife Sultana Kazim, an artist and fashion designer.

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The entrance to Sultana Kazim's home in Dubai

Stacked with period furniture, family heirlooms, paintings and knick-knacks from around the globe, the home showcases a kaleidoscope of influences from the Kazim family’s life in South Asia, UK, US and the Caribbean. ‘This plot of land was gifted to my husband by the Ruling family in the early eighties, a few years after he had returned to the UAE after his stint as an orthopaedic surgeon in London,’ Sultana Kazim tells Friday. ‘We decided to name it after the national bird of the UAE, taking a cue from its characteristics, its ambition, determination and its soaring flight of success.’

On either side of the entrance gate, a pair of golden lion sculptures give visitors a royal welcome. A flight of stairs leads up to the expansive living room with interiors that veer towards a mixture of Victorian and Gothic decor style. There are several seating areas in the living room, each decked with antique wooden furniture, ornamental souvenirs, heavy brass and iron memorabilia and porcelain statues. In the middle of the room is yet again a falcon figurine perched on a decorative pillar, clearly the bird is a significant decor element for the family.

Seated on one of the many dark wooden sofas is Sultana. ‘This room has been a witness to our life, to many cherished moments, countless conversations and unforgettable soirees,’ she reminisces. Every bit, the matriarch of the Kazim family, Sultana is also well known as UAE’s representative of the Museum of Americas, Florida, and as the former owner of a multi-city haute couture line by the name of Sultana Salon de Haute Couture.

‘Every year, I host a delegation of around 25 people from the US via the Museum of Americas at my home. Also, as a patron of the art community in the UAE, I often display exhibitions and have art and musical gatherings here,’ she shares.

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A part of her living room is sectioned into an art gallery displaying her abstract impressionist artwork

Not surprisingly, a part of her living room is sectioned into an art gallery displaying her abstract impressionist artwork. Sunlight filters in through the stained-glass windows here, adding to the medley of colours in the room. Adjacent to this is the study, where Sultana has most of her informal meetings. This room is designed with a softer tone of furnishings, white drapes and sofas. Here a vintage shelf takes centre stage, complemented by an oval mirror cast in a carved wooden frame. On the wall are photographs of celebrities Sultana has designed for, along with family pics. She points out Bianca Jagger, human rights activist and former wife of rock musician Mick Jagger, Hollywood actors John Voight and Linda Evans and director Francis Ford Coppola. On the adjacent wall are frames of her grandkids, husband and her children – son Eskander and daughter Sherine, who live in the US and elder daughter Houriya, notable as the first Emirati woman surgeon, who is based in Dubai.

Emirati pioneers

‘I have been called the Emirati pioneer maker,’ she says with a laugh, gazing proudly at her brood. While her husband was the first Emirati surgeon to receive his fellowship in surgery from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in 1958, her daughter who graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons, London in late 1980s, went on to become the first female Emirati surgeon.

‘My husband’s father was a faith healer but he was really inspired by his maternal uncle, a psychiatrist, who worked in South Asia. As for Houriya, she wanted to specialise in breast cancer surgery after meeting several women in advanced stages of cancer, who had been reluctant to visit a male doctor,’ shares Sultana.

Walking us out of the study she leads us to the favourite part of her house, the dining space, flooded with streaks of light through two sunbursts in the wall. The dining table, a period collective has dark wood chairs carved with a rich pattern of vine leaves and grapes. Inherited from her parents, says Sultana, this set came from South Africa and has a European interior decor style. ‘This is my formal dining space where I have entertained and hosted multitude of guests over the years. It is also a symbol of the legacy of hospitality in our family,’ she says.

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‘I have been called the Emirati pioneer maker,’ she says

We are now facing the large living room adorned with an array of decorative pieces. On both sides of the door are two blue pottery vases, and a marble table laden with metal artefacts – a chest studded with golden coloured nails belonging to Sultana’s great grandfather, a pearl merchant, a traditional Emirati palm frond woven basket top, a vintage nut and spice grinder, a framed piece of silver jewellery, a miniature Persian painting and an antique qalyan (hookah).

On the wall adjoining this table, most eyes cannot help but notice the enigmatic portrait of Sultana in her youth, dressed in a white sari with chandelier earrings painted by late Boscoe Holder, a leading contemporary painter from Trinidad and Tobago. ‘We were friends and he was fascinated by my collection of vintage fabrics that I stocked as a dress designer. In fact, he painted this portrait in exchange for one piece of vintage fabric,’ she reveals. Boscoe was a celebrated visual artist, designer, dancer, choreographer and musician.

Next to the door is a more intimate seating nook with a unique set of elephant head wooden seats, custom made for the late Dr Kazim. Overlooking this piece is a large painting of Sultana’s grand uncle, who was from the famed Al Ulama family. The painting itself was made by Arjan, royal painter from the House of Pahlavi, one of Iran’s last royal dynasties.

Two other paintings by the same artist depicting surgery in ancient times, grace yet another wall in the Falcon Villa’s living room.

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The Indian influence in her home is understandable as Sultana spent her formative years in Bombay

Sets of several wooden seating ensembles are spread across the living area. I can spot a number of Indian elements including a pair of cushion covers with Rajasthani patchwork, an intricately carved wooden two-seater from Kashmir and a colourful mirror work table runner. The Indian influence in her home is understandable as Sultana spent her formative years in Bombay. ‘I grew up first in the Al Bastakiya area in the Al Fahidi neighbourhood in Dubai. We still have remnants of our old home there. My family then moved to Bombay for a few years where I have fond memories of growing up in the Byculla area,’ she tells,

Born as a premature baby, Sultana says, she was always a fighter, and excelled in athletics in school, was a keen artist and an academic topper. At home while her father, a pearl merchant from the renowned Farooq family spoke Arabic, her mother conversed in Farsi which was more in tune with the Bastaki dialect spoken in Bastak region of Iran. Growing up, Sultana, the fourth amongst seven siblings, spoke a smattering of languages including a few Indian dialects.

Sultana’s marriage

In 1956, at the age of 16, Sultana’s marriage was arranged to Dr Kazim, who was then based in London. ‘I completed my O levels and went on to train and work as a radiology technician for many years in the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, a sought-after birthing centre for the royal family,’ she says. The family moved back to the UAE in the seventies.

Along with her career and raising her family, Sultana always pursued her passion for art and design.

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From the album: Sultana Kazim with her husband Dr Kazim

Her travels, her love for horses and deserts, all find space in her creations that extend beyond canvases, to include paintings on fabrics, jewellery, ceramics and shoes. From her artworks in her study, a set of three paintings are especially close to her heart, she says.

‘In these paintings, I have captured three phases of a woman’s life – first as a young girl, when she is treated as a princess at her home, then post marriage, facing life’s hardships and finally in the third frame, depicting how she emerges through her challenges as a fearless lioness,’ shares the artist.

Living amidst nuggets of her family’s history and her own eclectic memorabilia, she spends her days celebrating her marvellous life keeping herself updated about art, tending to her family, her home and her social connections.

‘But I miss my partner of 66 years, my husband, the most. His absence was especially felt during New Year’s Eve. Every year we used to take a rug to the terrace and have a picnic while watching the fireworks from both Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab. But this year I was alone, it was much quieter,’ she says.