51. The Medal


20 November, 1979 CE
First day of the Islamic year, 1400 AH
Anonymous donation from Saudi Special Forces soldier, 2013

There was always a regular beat to the back of me and a keyhole view of the world ahead of me. Every day I was pinned carefully into position. Occasionally, I glimpsed through my round medal’s eye a tight row of others like me, fastened over beating hearts on Saudi Special Force uniforms. Usually, I saw just one master in front of me, the leader, who would shout orders and only then would we move.

On that day, as morning prayers were ending, our masters were ordered to move fast, and their feet pounded on the white marble ground to an alien site. It was Mecca, but it was closed and empty of people, save for a long and impenetrable row of others like me, glinting in the sun. It had been three weeks since I’d heard my owner talk of this, three weeks of waiting for a decision, three weeks since Juhayman and his rebels had seized the mosque. The same Juhayman who had learnt under the displaced Shaykh bin Baz, during the rule of King Faisal, and whom the ulama had warned against. Now, of course, the ulama had gone silent.

That day the Saudi Special Force was asked to wait, poised outside the mosque for hours, the heat of the sun blinding us as it moved to its midday position, whilst the beat behind us grew louder and faster. But they did not move. Shots rang out towards us, but still our owners did not move. They could not shoot back towards the Ka’aba. Then I heard fast-running water; it was filling the lower levels of the mosque and still we could not move. Finally, our masters were told to enter and we marched forward. The 500 rebels had been flushed out with water. Many ran whilst others were electrocuted until they fell unconscious.

What I saw that day was not the movement in unison of my people, but different uniforms, different factions spreading in chaos. No blood was shed in Mecca I heard my master say time and again, but many hearts started beating to different drums on that day; beating so hard they changed the course of history. I am a shield and when polished I mirror my time. On that day, I stopped looking outwards and, like many others, I turned my reflection inwards to the heart of me.

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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