36. Ain Zubaidah


831 CE
216 AH
Found at Ain Zubaidah Well, Mecca, 2012

I used to be a water carrier. I was welded from steel, made to clash and clang and be swung around shoulders. I am rusty, covered in scratches, marks and dents. My chain is bent. When I was empty, I would try to swing so my sides would shimmer like the liquid I bore when the sun hit my skin. When I was full, I would sway with the weight of my waters. My insides are shaded and cool even in the summer, but my outside, my skin, is hard as nails and dry from the beatings and burnings of the sun and wind.

If I had been left to my own devices, I would have danced around the Ka’aba, making music against the stone floors with my clinking. Or I would have tried to become like the well, infinite in my holding of water, never half full or half empty. But instead, I could only be filled and then emptied, and once emptied I would jangle from my master’s tired shoulders as he carried me through Mecca. Up and down, forwards and back, filled and then emptied, I carried water to the bazaar and the twenty-odd barbers where men had their heads shaved before leaving the sanctuary. I know Souk al-Attarin like the links in my chain, and the public baths of green stone from which flints are made. Neither could have existed without my water carrier and me, because the water in the wells in Mecca is too bitter. I am not speaking, of course, of the Zam Zam Well waters. But if they scratched the surface, I am sure they would see that the water from Zam Zam is in essence the same as that held by me.

My carrier and I, we prodded much ground but we never found water. Instead, we would take the purest from the pools and reservoirs of Zubaidah bint Ja`far. If the pools dried up in summer, we’d travel long and hard in the summer heat to find water. Whilst it was not sacred, I am proud to say its flavours were some of the sweetest. And whilst we may not have had much, we were happy with our calling, for no matter what comes to pass, no pilgrim could survive without our waters.

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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