An imaginary 2050 CE
1473 AH
Photographs taken by the artist from the screen of a KSA army helicopter scouting for illegal pilgrims, 2013

There are hidden worlds. Other realms. Places that you cannot see that live within the strata of the air. Like ghosts, they are ephemeral, a momentary reminder of the past. You may miss a doorway to this world, so imperceptible is it, sitting somewhere between now and then, life and death.

On my screen, I can show you the ice-queen, the lost princess, roaming around these hills in tones of blues and silvers. Her story has been retold so many times and still no one but she and he – the one – knows the truth. There are traces of him on these mountains. She too, knows he is here, but she is caught in a trap of her own making. She endlessly seeks each cave and cabin, every nook and cranny, haunting the empty streets and towers in search of him. But he always eludes her.

It has been almost a century now, and occasionally, if she focuses her will, she can still access the real world. Not that she would ever want to return there. This is her reality now. She has heard gunshots ringing out from the skies; the cries of people who have been kept out, attempting to clamber to the sanctuary of the Ka’aba and the inner walls of Mecca. When they die, she sees their souls bursting into light and slowly fading out, rising up to the heavens or down into the hard ground. There are those who have made it to the walls before turning away, frightened after hearing the cries of children who have been sold to reckless truck drivers, slave traders, in exchange for a license for entry. The mothers wail, powerless in the face of man’s need for survival, having to choose between one child and another.

Sometimes she walks to the black mountain, where labourers carry rocks around and around the mountain to the top, the place where they build the towers, then take them down, build them up again, only to take them down yet again. The workers seem to forget that by the time they reach the top, they will be flung back down to the start. These men and women were once kings, queens and princes, priests and leaders, yet here, they must carry the brick loads of their worldly decisions.

Able to access the inner sanctuary, occasionally she finds there the women of before, her ancestors, dressed up in festival disguises, ghosts running free around Mecca. They dance and chant as they once did on Al Holaif, when women were allowed, one night of each year, to run liberated of their restraints, naked or costumed, released from their veils. The men were banished for those few hours, sent on a pilgrimage to Medina.

Those alive within the walls huddle, waiting patiently for the day when all men will receive their comeuppance. Here they are safe for now, continuing to lead their lives as best they can, trading everything from bodies to garments, old objects to the rationed sacred water, all the while praying to their god. Each man and woman envies the freedom of the choppers as they fly overhead, in and out, up and down, making the dust swirl in their wake as they circle the tower. Armed or disarmed, it is the army who will be the first to give the signal. Despite all their hope, none has quite digested that the day has come: it is the end of the world and each of them, whether living or walking dead, awaits the reckoning that will save them from this purgatory.

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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