22. Planes to Mecca


c. 1950 CE
c. 1369 AH
Found in Al-Musawar magazine, 2015

I am an advertisement from the famed and respected Al-Musawar magazine, which has run since 1925, if you can believe it. It is the voice of the Arab world – interviewing everyone who’s anyone, from King Saud to Mubarak. Before it was taken over by the Egyptian government in 1960, the magazine could choose what and who to cover in its stories and more often than not, it would of course pay tribute to the great Mecca. Now, its stories are confined to subtexts, hints and nods that raise the eyebrows of its more wizened readers. For they know that the writers cannot speak their minds and must instead thread truths within the untruths, veiling and unveiling.

I am just an advert, and you may ask why on earth I am important in comparison to the most controversial of Al-Musawar’s articles. I may not be the piece that brought Fekry Abaza to his knees, but I nonetheless teach a lesson – always to read between the lines of any press.

To understand, you have only to look at the city skyline I picture and compare it to what you see today. A plane curves into the small minaret, now replaced by the looming Clock Tower. The city’s communities on the horizon, so well known and loved, are now demolished. An aeroplane that looks no bigger than today’s private jets would carry wealthy pilgrims daily for the Hajj, with its four engines and Saudi colours – as though for a restful holiday. No plane that size, even with its four engines, could carry the number of pilgrims you see in Mecca today, the millions upon millions that crowd around the site of the Ka’aba. And yes admittedly, I am advert, so I am bound to show only the best, but even adverts hold truths within the untruths. Against our best intentions, we reveal what people were and what they have become.

This work transcends the objects. Ultimately, what I’m working with isn’t only the artefacts themselves, but the stories attached to them. For me, each tale is the manifestation of the object, and each object is a tangible materialisation of an underlying narrative. The work finds its equilibrium somewhere between the stories and chronology they’re chaptered into, the objects becoming knots or points along the timeline, woven into stories as part of the language of this artwork. Each story draws out a tale that intends to trigger imagination and memory, mixing fact with fiction, with the ultimate aim of straddling, conflating and confusing fixed notions of history to open up the unofficial histories that shape the character of place and memory.
Ahmed Mater
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