38. Foldable Cities


1981 CE
1401 AH
Found in the tent market, 2015

I am the invention of incredible minds, the response of those who live with nature, with the land; those who once led the purest of lives and are now few and far between. I was first conceived by nomads and then adopted by the migrating people of the Arab peninsula.

The wind moves around and through me. I cannot catch fire.

The great Bodo Rausch and Otto Frei reinvented me for the city of Mecca. A foldable city, an airport of 100 acres, constructed for the sole purpose of the Hajj, transformed the mountains into dorms and homes, turned the desert into fields of white shelters. Then, just as fast as we went up, we were folded back down.

In the 1960s, the airport roof, suspended six floors in the air, was one of the largest structures built on earth. For no more would you see slow-moving waves of people travelling overland, from the seas and oceans, on camels, in ships, in cars and carts. From the 1960s on, everyone arrived in Mecca by plane.

What an art: to rebuild homes time and again, reinventing walls, corners and aspects, for this, the largest single gathering of people on Earth. Yet now they are constructing high-rise buildings, towers, shopping malls and city developments, abandoning the lessons learnt from me, the simple tent. Eating up the desert landscape, the new Mecca is built from impenetrable walls and unsustainable structures.

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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