1. The Black Stone


Date unknown
Found on Ka’aba Mountain in a construction area, preparing the grounds for hotels, 2011

I am the beginning and sit at the heart of the tales you are about to read. I am black, cold, dense, solid stone.

My story began a long, long time ago – millennia before they stole me from the Ka’aba Mountain and placed me in a square. They took about 300 of us and piled us at the foot of the mountain and the centre of their encampment. With our ancestors watching from the hilltops, they laid us down, one against the other, to build what we now know to be their walls of prayer.

As they took us away, we could hear the mountains cry and we yearned to return. The only way to stop us from slowly rolling back to our home was to keep us tightly knotted. So they followed the overlaying of palms, as they used to do for movable walls ­– walls that could easily be destroyed.

I could be the stone that was in the middle, or the one to the right, two from the bottom. Wherever we sat, we moved towards corners, the only ones permitted in a city where all homes and houses were round. It is said that no-one since these walls were constructed has been allowed to build a corner.

We were stacked this way, not to be moved again, indestructible – or so we thought – since here, forever more, the heart of Islam would reside.

Then suddenly, twenty years ago or more, in the year 1417 AH, they knocked our corners down, one by one, pulling us apart. Now, in our stead stands concrete, cold, with its own kind of darkness.

I went from the top of the only black mountain to this imprisonment, only to be pulled down and disregarded – moved from my prime position, one side facing in and the other one facing out, one facet to the inside of the Ka’aba, whose secrets I can never tell, and the other to the weavings of the green cloth, the kiswah. The kiswah has its own story to tell, one that you will be told later …

I now travel with my new master, and in this tale of dreams and trauma, I am given room to breathe, to symbolise the one thing that none other on these pages has seen or will ever see. Just as they demolished our walls and began to build the hotels, the artist rescued me and left the others to be taken back to the mountains and the Qu’reishi with their camels, goats and horses. For he could see me for what I am and for what I represent – I embody darkness and light, earth, stone, molten magma to cold, hard rock. I am the colour of coal, the colour of ebony, the colour of endless, empty space. I am the absence of light.

I am as dark as the night sky, as heavy as the deep seas. I am the opposite of white, of the ihram. I am the first colour – the colour used by artists in caves void of light. The colour worn by the clergy, judges, officials across the globe. By poets, businessmen, statesmen, night-clubbers and widowers. I am the darkness of an abaya. Like those who wear these dusky cloaks, I know what it is to be shrouded in black, to be able to see out but none to see in. For I am as the daughters. I am as the Ka’aba, taken and covered in black cloth. I am the colour of mourning, the colour of death, witches and magic. I am also the colour of the sweetest fruits, of secrets, elegance, purity and depth of soul. I am the colour of the coals of fires, the deep tones of ash. I am the colour of the black dog. I am all colours in one. I am unified. I am the one.

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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