86. The glutton


2010 CE
1431 AH
Fifty objects collected from the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, Fairmont Hotel, 2012

In truth, I can hardly be bothered to speak to you. My stomach is bloated with pizza, hummus, bread, lard. And that was just today! Below me are the grounds of once-sacred places, homes, temples, forts and mosques. Under these walls, sparkling, shimmering, towering above the ground towards the skies are the old sites of exchange, the immediacy of moments. For centuries, tents would be erected on this sacred ground and taken down every year on the rising of the moon, on the first day of the Hajj. But the energy required, for pity’s sake!

Why must you pilgrims come with your simplicity, your two white sheets of unstitched cloth, your mercy and your piety? I take all that is sacred, all the things your soul has foraged for and found, and plant them like seeds throughout the rooms in the form of the menus, the experience. I’d like you to see me as an extension of the sacred, but it’s a distortion, a suspended reality, a position. For I bring you closer to the skies yet further from the heavens.

Once you’re inside me, I swallow you up just as you slurp up my milkshakes. I suck you dry of all your worldly things, preparing you for the pilgrimage. In exchange, I feed your dreams in every detail with this carcass you crave to live in. I am the house of commodities, the exchange of all that is deemed beautiful by some, ugly and grotesque by others. I am the commercialisation of the house of God. Below what may seem clean and secure, I am fat and putrid, a false respite from the millions you jostle against beyond my doors; from the place where all men and women move as one – the rich, the poor, with black eyes or blue. I am the harnessed wealth of the awe-inspiring power of so many congregated, from all over the world, to pray to the heavens, to Him.

They say I am built to house the increasing numbers who visit these grounds, but did you ever think that I might be a wall between you and these others, sealing you like a trap inside my air-conditioned high-rises? For I am shopping malls and 800 rooms. I am prayer rooms for thousands. Decorated with Arabic inscriptions and topped by a crescent-shaped spire, I am a cynical nod to this site’s architectural past. I am all that is kitsch and all that is gaudy. So whilst the room I cradle you in might feel close to purity, do not forget that I am but a luxurious edit of the truth. I might hide behind respite and clean air, but I am sloth and greed, laziness and excess. I am all the gossip you bring in from outside, the bitching and idle chat about the harrowing experience of being packed into tight spaces with all those you call ‘others’, with your clash of systems, cultures and contradictory depths of belief.

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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