82. Snouck's Mecca (Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje)


1885 CE
1302 AH
Found in a second-hand book shop in Mecca, 2015

I am the voice of Christian Snouck, the final book about Mecca you’ll find in this collection.

Calling myself Haji Abdul Ghaffar, I visited Mecca long ago, in 1885. More than a hundred years later, my images act as keys to the past, as well as hints to the present and future. Those hundred years changed the face of our dear city, the place that is central to this story.

I was wise in theology, I knew all the religions and I believed in the possibility of peace and understanding, even celebration of difference and once this was all that I lived for. But I am also a symbol of the wolf amongst the sheep. I used my knowledge and understanding to take over the lands of the Far East. In some ways you might say that I betrayed those who loved me, including my dear wife. But I did not know any better. To colonise was what we did then. Some don’t believe I could have been converted to Islam – does it really matter either way? In my lifetime I tried my best to fix the damage done, encouraged my people to learn and integrate, to hand over the reigns of our colonial kingdom and to reform the way we approached our relationships with the rest of the world. What are left are these faces of the pilgrims that fill my album. Look closely and you will also see the faces of the present and the future, of every pilgrim who has ever made his way to the city of Mecca. Beware of unknown forms of political control, for who knows how and when these will take hold.

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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