Diasec mounted Latex jet print on Kodak
245 × 326.5 cm
In 2011, Ahmed started a series of deliberately experimental journeys across, around, and within Mecca. The epic project documented the unofficial histories of the most important site in the Muslim world.
Across hundreds of photographs and films, Desert of Pharan documents the rapid development of Islam’s holiest city, a place in a state of constant transformation. Ahmed focuses his lens on the shifting urban environment, as well as the lives lived amid the tumult. The title is taken from the ancient name for Mecca, or the wilderness and mountains surrounding it – the Desert of Paran, or Wilderness of Paran, mentioned in the Old Testament.
The project maps the tension between public and private space. While Mecca is home to more than a million residents, it is being transformed to cater to the needs of millions more pilgrims and tourists. Existing models of urban development have been implemented on a vast scale. Equipped with imported financial and development know-how, Mecca is attempting a transformation in order to adapt to the geopolitical, technological, environmental, geomorphological and religious context in which it exists.
In the city of Mecca, a new future is being drawn up. Its contours are becoming visible amidst a landscape teeming with initiatives – from the most public to the most private – aimed at developing and reinventing seemingly fixed rituals, states and assumptions; culminating, perhaps, in the re-imagining of life at the centre of the Islamic world.
This body of work asks: Is public space in the Islamic city becoming a luxury item? Is the courtyard becoming a commercial?
A vast field of cranes stands in the perpetual glow of construction lights as the massive expansion of the Great Mosque takes shape and much of Mecca’s history is erased. This view is from the top of the crane used to build the minaret where Al-Shamia Mountain once overlooked the Kaaba. As mountains are flattened, concrete walls erected, and a global city of travellers grows, I wonder how this transformed landscape will affect the collective memory and identity of Mecca’s inhabitants. Ahmed Mater2011
Like few other cities on earth, Mecca seems to buckle under the weight of its own dramatic symbolism. Mecca is rarely seen as a living city with its own inhabitants and historical development. Instead, it is almost exclusively seen as a site of pilgrimage, as a timeless, emblematic city.