Found by Hoor Al Qassimi whilst on a location visit with the artist to a demolition site of the Shamia community on Jebel Hindi, Mecca, 2013
My name is Arnob. Once, before my little friend lost me on the streets, I was cute and fluffy. I was brought over from Burma, with an old lady who came here to do her pilgrimage. She never left – well, at least, not standing. After packing me carefully into her case, wrapped in shiny paper, she’d given me to a little boy named Khalil. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes when he first saw me. No one since has ever looked at me that way.
In fact, you would have thought I was a deity of some sort, and to this little boy I was; I was his Allah. For in me he saw someone to talk to, someone to listen to him and guide him. He imposed a name upon me, a language, conversation. I never had the heart to tell him that without his imagination, I wouldn’t exist, for he used me to guide him through every situation. And anyway, if he had known, then I would cease to exist, and we can’t have that.
This child, he’d play games with me that he’d made up, and I never really knew where I stood. The rules were always changing, the reasons melting and the facts mutating until even he didn’t recognise them anymore. He was sweet, but my goodness, he was manipulative, twisting everything to his advantage. Do you think I ever won any of the games? Pffff! Of course not!
And how could I have explained to him that this was just a game he was playing – one he’d made up in his own head to cope with the changes and new situations he was encountering? I know that he’ll continue to play that game into adulthood. He’ll continue to place truth where there is none, to play roles, to create stories and alternative realities and treat them as fact.
At night, when he was sleeping, I’d hear the television across the small hall, the door left ajar to let in some light. For Khalil was afraid of the dark. The sounds of adult voices would echo on the speckled marble floors. I could hear the games they were describing in urgent voices, tales of bombing, oil, death and war. I recognised their rules as the same as those fickle ones my friend Khalil would magic up out of nowhere. And I wonder, are they rules that you’re born with, you humans? Is it part of your make-up, your genetics? Occasionally the television would be turned off and a man’s singing would sound out, beautiful and pure. This I knew to be the sounds of Mecca, the men and women praying up to what I imagined was their own Arnob. Not one like me, crumpled and left on the ground, of course.
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 Mater2014