65. Embers of Al Holaif


1300 CE
699 AH
Bought from Mecca souq, 2015

We decorate and beguile through tricks and illusions. Rub your fingers over us and watch as your skin is transformed. We are the black of the night, the deep reds of blood and embers, and the scents of exotic and intoxicating flowers. We are the rumblings of the belly of unreason, the juices of original sin.

On Al Holaif, when all men are banished from the city centre, the women of Mecca are said to use us to transform themselves for a night. They paint their faces black, red and white, and dressed up as beasts they parade and dance down the dark city alleyways, dripping scent on the pavements. Freedom at last to show their faces, freedom at last to move to music and chant!

When they return to look in their mirrors, gone is the calm stare shining through black drapes. In place are the eyes of those who have felt the fire of life and still the embers burn.

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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