In partnership with
King Abdullah Economic City
Saudi Arabia’s recent history has been minimally recorded. Absent an archive, the past does not enter the present. Missing the link, stories of today fall away and the moment does not cohere. In this tumult, scenes, characters and narratives cannot be assimilated, let alone performed.
The urban scene structures the psychological condition, with each space – interior, exterior – forged through constant cycles of reconfiguration. In the spaces between these currents, life carries on. On some sites, the shockwaves of mass demolition and reconstruction are so recent, so regular, that the performance and its effects are only just starting to be staged.
Day-to-day life continues, the torrents of change around us buffering past and unfurling through future. We find ourselves in the eye of the storm — this great swirling narrative picks up its pace only to drop it again, before reorienting its direction and re-initiating its force some weeks or months later. Caught as we are, with baited breath, between applause or hiss, how do we perform? The drumroll, that timeless signifier of anticipation — a nail-biting, beat-skipping prelude to a performance — is omnipresent. For what comes next on Saudi’s cultural, social and political landscape? In the midst of what seems like a perpetual cliff-hanger, how do we delineate the truth from fiction?
The performance plays out around us, but we too are under a spotlight. A rabbit ‘caught in the headlights’ freezes. A human, under the harsh glare of the media — or caught in the perpetual brightness of a towering construction site — hides. For Ahmed Mater, this moment in time has led to his own performance: works created through actions — found, recorded, spontaneous and sometimes scripted — with his compulsion to document keeping pace with the tempo of seismic and rapid change. His Desert of Pharan series, grouped into distinct zones of reflection, brings to the fore Saudi’s main protagonist, Makkah. Here we have an archive being written and re-written, perhaps the country’s only archive of what was and is now on the horizon.