50. The Day, The Year


1979 CE
1400 AH
Bought from newspaper archive in Jeddah, 2015

It’s 4 December 1979, and finally, the army has taken back the Ka’aba.

Here on my pages you can see the first photograph of Juhayman al-Otaybi, or Angry Face as his name means, the voice of the militants, protestors against the House of Saud, our Kingdom’s monarchy. Some agreed with him and his followers, perturbed by the encroachment of Western beliefs and Bid’ah or religious innovations in our society, to the detriment of true Islam. Was this the beginning of the fate we are all living through now? The militants were removed and beheaded as an example around the country. The religious leaders were appeased with a move away from Western ideals to an entrenchment in what we believe to be our own.

So it was in these two weeks between November 20 and December 4 that the Grand Mosque was seized. Taking hostages, they declared that the Mahdi (the ‘redeemer of Islam’) had arrived in the form of one Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani, calling on all to obey him. We could not tell you the full truth then on our pages, but now that time has passed, perhaps we can revisit this event with sharper eyes and ears.

As we wrote and printed, bullets flew between the army and the mosque. But what we did not say was that the insurgents reached the Ka’aba. They were some of the few who have ever lived to visit the inside, to sit right next to the Black Stone. The Saudi army could find no way to kill them, since none can shoot a bullet in the direction of the Ka’aba. Instead, they filled it with water and electrocuted them to within inches of their lives. The men were then taken out and spread around the country, one for each major town, and assassinated.

Two messages rang clear that day. The first: you do not challenge the House of Saud for it has too much to lose. The second: the House of Saud will appease the religious extremists and will never risk rebellion again, so prepare yourselves for the age of strict enforcement of the Islamic code. Prepare yourselves for the mutaween.

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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