Gift from a friend, 2015
Listened to so many times, the tape holding my rare recording has almost snapped. But I am the voice of Hamza Shehata.
A poet and a civic leader, I lived in the western part of Saudi Arabia, the Hejaz. I was born in Mecca and raised in Jeddah, yet my heart always remained in the holy city.
I went to India for a time, and there I started to understand the methods of modern poetry. Oh my country, if only you had listened to me! I don’t understand why or how you managed to find yourself here, like this, today. I decided to leave, for you could not give me what I needed.
So here they are, my letters to Shireen. Are they as beautiful as those of Khalil Gibran? Perhaps not as strong as the poems that Arwwad and I once published in Al Bilad, the ones that were so harsh and extreme, the best conversations of my life, but that so very nearly got us both killed.
These letters are my final writings. Then I lost the will to wield the pen because writing never seemed to change anything and its resonance felt too weak. Even in Cairo, where distance made my heart grow fonder for the cities of Arabia, the lives of my five daughters were more important to me than anything the rest of the world could offer. I dedicated myself to them. I believe they know that.
I haunt you, my Mecca, for my body was brought back to you after my death. I haunt the Kashashiya district, but nothing is left. All destroyed – my birthplace, the place of my people. I walk the Al Malaa cemetery, out through the gates and into the city. Listen carefully and you can hear me whispering the tales of old Mecca, the poetry of freedom.
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