Donated by Abdelrahman Maklouf, 2013
I am Abdelrahmen Maklouf, born in 1924, the son of Sheikh Hassanain Maklouf. I was the city planner for Makkah from 1959 to 1961. I am not from Saudi Arabia, although I hold the country close to my heart.
I was first brought to Saudi Arabia, as you can see from the dates in my passport, by the UN in 1959. I remember looking at photos of Mecca and Medina when I was studying in Italy and some may not believe this, but I knew my destiny lay there. When I was selected by the UN to visit the cities as an expert in urban planning, it wasn’t really a surprise to me. Being a Muslim worked in my favour; it would be ludicrous for a non-Muslim to attempt to re-map a city that would never allow him in. I stayed right up until 1963, during which time I planned out five major cities for Saudi and watched them being built by the great Bin Laden Group: Jeddah, Mecca, Medina, Yembo and Ghizan.
To look now upon the destruction of what I worked so hard to develop is very hard for me. I do not, of course, wish for any conflict with a country that welcomed me and let me draw upon my learning for the betterment of their state. But Mecca … I am not the only one to say how close this site is to my heart. That a city could break a heart, who would believe that?
Later, I moved back to Cairo, then went to Abu Dhabi, where I also planned the city and found my home. It is an incredible feeling to live in a city that you have mapped out. I am old now, but the new tales of Mecca still rattle these elderly bones: the millions that visit and the hundreds that never leave, the panicking crowds of a city enduring the hammers of ruthless demolition. Like my father before me, it seems I may live to nearly 100, yearning for a Mecca of long ago.
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