32B. Automatic Telephone Directory


Ministry of Communications, Automatic Telephone Directory
1974 CE
1394 AH
Found in a vintage bookshop in Mecca, 2015

I close with a thud, and when I do, my pages are silenced. Open me up again and you will hear the relentless chattering, the names being called out, whispered, spoken over and again, one above the other. One shouts that he has a shop full of useful electronic wares, another that she is the chef in the city’s best restaurant. Children cry out their mothers’ names on the day of mourning. As one family disappears, room is made for the new ones. My lines close up and then widen, as flexible as the belly of a snake. I can fit all of you in.

There are some of you who never leave these pages – you know who you are, for your reputation precedes you. Since the time of the Prophet, your names have been on the lips of all Meccans – you, the Al Sheba, for you are still the only trusted key holders, and you, the Al Ashraf, once the city’s rulers. And then of course, the most important of all, the Qu’reishi. Blessed are they who are born with that name. For those who do not know, these names are just sounds and spellings. But for others, they are the bedrock, the web upon which the city builds, changes and evolves.

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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