Ahmed Mater’s exhibit ‘Mecca Journeys’ portrays the social and political life of Mecca while exploring the effects of extreme urban development through photography, video and art installation

Photo credit: Ahmed Mater, Brooklyn Museum

A new photo exhibition “Mecca Journeys,” which gives an unprecedented look into the modernization of Mecca, opened last Friday at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition by artist Ahmed Mater features large-scale photographs of the holy city, as well as more intimate images of its diverse inhabitants, alongside six videos, a sculpture and an installation piece. “Mecca Journeys” will be on view through April 2018.

“As Mecca is a city that can be visited only by Muslims, I was drawn to Mater’s work as a window into a place and a cultural experience many people in the world will never have the opportunity to see first-hand,” said Catherine Morris, Sackler Senior Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. “Before becoming an artist, Mater practiced as a medical doctor who specialized in community health, and his sensitivity to the implications of social well-being on an individual and a communal level makes Mecca Journeys both a monumental cultural document and a highly personal exploration.”

Saudi artist Ahmed Mater, who began his documentary project in 2008, explores the expansion, demolition and new construction boom transforming Mecca. “Mecca Journeys” portrays the effects of extreme urban redevelopment and the ongoing reconstruction of the city, while focusing on the holy site of the annual hajj pilgrimage as well as the living and working conditions of the city’s residents.

Photo credit: Ahmed Mater, Brooklyn Museum

The exhibition is anchored by a collection of photographs from the series “Desert of Pharan,” a portrait of Mecca’s social and political life within the global context of the Muslim diaspora. The photographs document the influx of wealth into the city, contrasted by the portrayal of the lives of workers on construction sites.

“Mecca Journeys” also includes the sculpture “Magnetism,” which depicts a congregation of pilgrims around the holy Ka‘aba; “Mecca Windows,” a floor-to-ceiling installation incorporating windows from historical buildings, saved from demolition; and “Leaves Fall in All Seasons,” a video collection that stitches together mobile-phone footage many immigrant workers who recorded their everyday encounters with the city, capturing the complex cultural dynamics of Mecca today.

Mater examines Islamic culture at the intersection of consumerism and religion. The multidisciplinary artist and trained physician, combines his interests in photography, film, performance and sculpture with scientific methodologies. Mater creates aesthetically and politically engaged pieces and blends them with Islamic subjects, themes and aesthetics.

“This collection of images, with their diverse and extreme points of reference, represents the deliberately experimental and serendipitous nature of my journey to the heart of Mecca,” said Mater. “They are testaments to the cultural and political conditions of contemporary Saudi society.”

“Mecca Journeys” is organized by the Brooklyn Museum in partnership with the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture and is produced in collaboration with CULTURUNNERS. The exhbition is on view from December 1, 2017 – April 8, 2018.


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