“Mecca is in a constant cycle of construction and deconstruction — it’s as if change is the only constant.”

"I need to be here, in the city of Mecca, now, experiencing, absorbing, and recording my place in this moment of transformation, after which things may never be the same again," states Mater. "It has become important for me to identify with this place and to understand how this constellation of change, as well as the forces that are shaping it, will affect the community of which I am a part."


Ahmed Mater, “Room with a View,” 2013. C-print, 60 x 80 in
Ahmed Mater, “Room with a View,” 2013. C-print, 60 x 80 in © Ahmed Mater

Ahmed Mater’s Mecca Journeys, on view at the Brooklyn Museum, gave my experience at the Vatican a run for its money. Mater’s photographs show some of the millions of pilgrims who gather in Mecca every year for Hajjweek. Unlike the Vatican, which is walled-off and separate from the city of Rome, Mecca is an extremely dense urban center, and residents are being displaced by the hotels, shopping centers, and other pilgrim-oriented amenities still being constructed around the Grand Mosque. As Murat Cem Menguc pointed out in his review of Mater’s show, the artist’s documentary works expose “the confrontation between the authentic and imagined Mecca, and of pilgrims with the tourism industry.”

Mecca Journeys includes photographs and videos showing construction workers building the Abraj Al-Bait skyscraper complex (ultra-luxury hotels replace what was once an 18th-century Ottoman fortress), road signs leading to Mecca with designated lanes for Muslims and non-Muslims, fast-food chains facing the entrance of the Grand Mosque, and the neighborhoods where Rohingya immigrants have been displaced by development. The images seem like a critical take on the relationship between religion and capitalism.