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Ahmed Mater works in a variety of media, including painting, performance, installations, and photography. His works often resonate with the tension between religious tradition and the realities of contemporary Saudi Arabian life. Since 2010, he has focused especially on photography and video to explore the social impact of the political and economic changes taking place in Saudi Arabia.
Desert of Pharan is Mater’s first long-form photographic project, produced after spending a year living in Mecca and gaining unique access to its inhabitants and the many migrant workers rebuilding the city. At the core of this massive urbanization project is the destruction of historic architecture and the expansion of the Grand Mosque. The familiar, mountainous horizon once dominated by the Kaaba is being transformed into a high-rise complex of luxury amenities to accommodate the growing religious tourism industry and affirm political authority in a globally important site. Under the glow of the iconic clock tower—Mecca’s new dominant symbol—luxury hotels, condominiums, shopping malls, and enormous prayer rooms are reshaping the city. Photographing from the edges of the diminishing old city or from within the gleaming new towers at its center, Mater presents a multifaceted view of the stunning scale of destruction and reconstruction.
Jabril is a still image from a video capturing the working conditions of migrant laborers in Mecca. Extracted as a single image, this worker’s mundane task of installing one of the five enormous crescents atop the clock tower complex becomes spectacular as he glides through the air, in Mater’s words, “like an angel bringing a warning.” While the crescent symbol is typically associated with the Islamic calendar and traditional mosque architecture, this golden crescent adorns a gleaming new real estate development. Jabril has become emblematic of the Desert of Pharan series, capturing in a single, spare composition the troubling essence of the changes reshaping Islam’s holiest city.
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