Digital video with sound
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. The shifting urban environment of the city is witnessed, 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?
This film is made up of mobile phone footage shot by immigrant workers on building sites in and around Makkah between 2008 and 2013. Most of the footage was shot for the benefit of these workers’ families. The files were transferred to the artist’s phone using Bluetooth, while other materials were originally uploaded to YouTube. Some contributors have asked to remain anonymous.
Like few cities on earth, Makkah seems to buckle under the weight of its own dramatic symbolism. It is a hallowed site revered by millions, a point of perpetual immigration, and in recent years it has begun to be recast, reworked and ultimately reconfigured.
Makkah is being given a makeover. The speed and breadth of transformation introduce dependent concerns regarding the city’s social mechanics and the on-going and symbiotic relationship between demolition and construction. Above all, it has concentrated the imaginative energy of Makkah’s inhabitants on what will remain once the work is complete. Henry Hemming2013
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.