Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys

01 Dec 2017 - 08 Apr 2018
Brooklyn Museum


The Brooklyn Museum presents Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys, an unprecedented look into the changes unfolding in Mecca, by one of the most significant cultural voices documenting the realities of the iconic city. Saudi artist Ahmed Mater began his monumental documentary project in 2008, bearing witness to the extraordinary expansion, demolition, and new construction transforming the city. The exhibition features large-scale photographs of Mecca, as well as more intimate images of its diverse inhabitants, alongside six videos, a sculpture, and an installation piece. Focusing on the site of the annual hajj pilgrimage for millions of Muslims, as well as the living and working conditions of Mecca’s permanent residents, Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys presents a complex portrait of extreme urban redevelopment and the direct effects of the ongoing reconstruction of the holy city.

Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys is curated by Catherine J. Morris, Sackler Senior Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. The exhibition, on view from December 1, 2017, through April 8, 2018, is organized by the Brooklyn Museum in partnership with the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) and is produced in collaboration with CULTURUNNERS.

“What started as a desire to show only the changes taking place has ended with a full and exhaustive depiction of a site that can be accessed only by those of the Islamic faith,” states Mater. “This collection of images, with their diverse and extreme points of reference, represents the deliberately experimental, meandering, and serendipitous nature of my journey to the heart of Mecca. They are testaments to the cultural and political conditions of contemporary Saudi society.”

The presentation is anchored by a suite of photographs from the series Desert of Pharan, published as a book, Desert of Pharan: Unofficial Histories behind the Mass Expansion of Mecca (Lars Müller Publishers, 2016), the artist’s monumental, multiyear documentary project that captures the voices and experiences of Mecca’s inhabitants and hajj pilgrims. For Mater, Desert of Pharan is an unofficial history of the social and political life of the city within the global context of the Muslim diaspora. Photographs on view document the influx of wealth into the city, including images of luxury hotel rooms with views of the Mecca Royal Clock Tower, as well as the lives of workers on construction sites, among them the large population of Rohingya who have immigrated to the city from Myanmar (formerly Burma) for decades.

Catherine Morris states, “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. 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, as reflected in the rapidly changing city, makes Mecca Journeys both a monumental cultural document and a highly personal exploration.”

Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys also presents the sculpture Magnetism (2009) and the installation piece Mecca Windows (2013–ongoing), as well as six videos that focus on the complex cultural dynamics at work in Mecca today. Fusing Mater’s scientific, religious, and cultural interests, Magnetism uses a black magnet surrounded by iron filings to suggest the congregation of pilgrims around the Ka‘aba, the holiest site in the Islamic world. On view for the first time, Mecca Windows is a floor-to-ceiling installation of windows saved from historical buildings, which are progressively being demolished in the city. During his time residing in Mecca, Mater befriended many immigrant workers and asked them to record their everyday encounters with the city. The resulting video, Leaves Fall in All Seasons (2013), stitches together mobile-phone footage that captures what these men considered pivotal moments, including the captivating image of a worker installing the golden crescent atop the Mecca Royal Clock Tower.

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King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, known as ithra, is a one-of-a-kind institution that brings together multiple offerings under one roof. From arts and culture to science and innovation, this bold initiative by Saudi Aramco promises a continuous journey of enrichment designed to energize the next knowledge economy of Saudi Arabia.

ithra aims to make a positive and tangible impact on the cultural scene by focusing on building local talents in the knowledge and creative industries. Blending iconic architectural design with advanced technology, and unique learning methods with enriching programs, ithra is an infinitely inspiring platform for explorers, learners, creators, and leaders–a thriving hub of knowledge, creativity and cross-cultural engagement.

As the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia strives to achieve its ambitious national development goals to transition to a knowledge-based economy, ithra acts as a bridge connecting cultures and cultivating a creative and innovative community.


The Brooklyn Museum is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States and among of the cultural treasures of New York City. It is housed in a landmark Beaux-Arts building designed by the celebrated architects McKim, Mead & White in 1893, and at 560,000 square feet is one of the most expansive museum buildings in the nation. Located at the corner of Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue in central Brooklyn, the Museum is set amid an imposing complex of parks and gardens, conceived in the nineteenth century, that is also home to Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Prospect Park Zoo, and the Central Library of the Brooklyn Public Library System, along with the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch that has stood at Grand Army Plaza since 1892. Particular strengths of the Museum’s encyclopedic collections include unsurpassed holdings in American art and ancient Egyptian artifacts. Among its other distinguished collections are Asian art, art of the Middle East, African art, Oceanic art, Native American and pre-Columbian art, and the decorative arts. The Brooklyn Museum is among the foremost institutions presenting contemporary art in new and dynamic ways to a diverse audience, and it is recognized for connecting today’s art to the rich artistic heritage of the past. The Museum is widely known for its advances in visitor-friendly technology, notably its proprietary “ASK Brooklyn Museum” app.

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