A gift to the artist from his father, after he had done Hajj as a child, 1984
I remember the day they bought me. A young boy and his father. The young one pointed me out on the shelf. I can still see his sparkling eyes as they paid and left. For weeks afterwards, he would take me to school, to the park, to his family and friends, their chubby little fingers pressing down on my clicker button. Sometimes I think they enjoyed the sound, the way the slides moved around, my inner workings, more than the images themselves. The little boy, my owner, he liked to remember the people he’d seen, the crowds and hustle and bustle, the awe of the people moving as one. One of his hands was always held in the warm safety of his father’s, the other clutching me.
The best way to think about me is to imagine you’re blind. I know it’s hard, but try it. You’re blind, yet I still exist. Feel the weight of me, my cold skin in your hands. I am an object whose sole purpose it is to show you sights, or so you think. But really I represent memories. Even without your vision, I can still conjure up images of the past, the things and feelings you’ve known, like the blind miniaturists who came before me, reading and then relaying the world from memory. I draw on the power of the mind and its ability to score truth onto untold and unknown time. I feed on its ability to interpret all things from the truths it has learnt, both real and imagined.
So, I belong to the artist. I’m the first picture of Mecca etched onto his memory. I am the controller of those images and their random assortment and I decide what comes next for each of you, just as the artist, my owner, decides what is art and what is not. I am the source, the trigger for him to use his work to remember.
One night, he sprang awake from his bed in Jeddah because he had remembered me. And in remembering, he rediscovered me, taking me, covered in dust, from the room I was so familiar with, full of books and his old things, to here – this page within a book, this white austere room, these packing boxes in storage, ready for the next opportunity to show me – reinstating me as his prized possession, his old friend, to whom he now turns again and again.
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