Found in the archives of a bric-a-brac shop in Jeddah city centre, 2015
I belong to another place: to a Mecca that no longer exists. The folds of my paper are frayed with time, soft and heavy as felt. They fall open, tracing the paths of memories, of the hundreds of times I have been opened up and closed again, ready for the next journey.
On my sheets you will see a land that you may not recognise, or perhaps might believe to be hundreds of miles away from Mecca ¬– another country, another landscape, different territories. Once a tool to help navigate reality, showing the contours of the mountains, the places where you might find water, food, hospitality and welcome, where the roads were unsurpassable, the peaks untrodden, I am now a relic, an old rendering of places that have changed beyond recognition, familiar only to the villagers and goats who live perched on the cliff’s edges or nestled into the mountain creeks. All has changed.
What are Ajyad and Al Ghassalah? I hear you ask. Jarwal, Suq Al Lail, Al Mansur, Al Shamia and Jebel Hindi?
Look at me in more detail: here you see the Sacred Mosque, the holiest site in Mecca and Islam, built to protect the Ka’aba, which sits at its centre and is said to have been built by the Prophet Abraham himself and his son Ishmael. What you cannot see here is that it is covered in black cloth, and circled seven times by pilgrims. Then here you have Mina, the site of the stoning of the Devil. Muzdalifah, where pilgrims spend the night in the desert. The hill of Arafat and Jabal Al Rahma, the site of the last sermon. And the Jabal Al Noor, the mountain of light, home to the Her’aa grotto where Muslims believe the prophet first had the Qu’ran revealed to him. Here is Jabal Al Thawr, the cave in which the prophet hid and which the spider blocked off with her web to hide him. Masjid Al Taniem, a miqat and here Hudaibiyah on the old road between Mecca and Jeddah. This is the site where the famous Hudaibiyah Treaty took place between the Muslims from Madinah led by Prophet Muhammed and the Qur’eishi from Mecca. Lastly, the Jannat ul Mualla cemetery, where the prophet’s companions are buried.
Men died and lost their wits in the heat whilst making me, drawing my lines by hand as they travelled the earth, seeking and finding the nooks, the swoops and curves of this majestic land. I plot both the physical and abstract traits – the lines of roads and the land’s contours, but also those of politics and jurisdiction, toponymy and typology. The leaders fought for meaning and belonging, ownership and rights; the cartographers for accuracy, a desire to map out truth and fact.
But we are used to being replaced, renewed, and deemed out of date. It takes time for you to realise that we are a precious clue to history, to a past that some would rather sweep under the earth’s crust, under Arafat, the same mountain and crust that they now build upon, re-categorising and reinventing territories. Whatever lines they erase and draw again, we will always remain part of Al-Mamun’s circumference, a plot of earth that from all angles points in the direction of the Qibla.
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