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Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys

December 1, 2017–June 17, 2018

Ahmed Mater (Saudi, born 1979). Still from Leaves Fall in All Seasons, 2013. Video, color, sound, 19 min. 57 sec. Courtesy of the artist. © Ahmed Mater

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Can you tell me a little more about Ahmed Mater? And about the exhibition "Mecca Journeys."
“Mecca Journeys” roughly covers Mater's body of work since 2009, documented also in his 2016 book, “Desert of Pharan”. In these works, he shows us Mecca as he has experienced it for the past eight years. The exhibition traces the changing face of the city of Mecca, and reflects on how major building projects are impacting Islam's holiest city and its communities.
So Mater is commenting on the impact of industrialization on a holy city?
To a certain extent, yes. The infrastructural changes are in many ways necessary to accommodate the 3 million pilgrims who come to the city every Hajj season. That said, Mater is critiquing some of the ways the changes are coming about. For instance, he is trying to encourage discussion about the destruction of slums and displacement of immigrant communities in the city to make way for luxury hotels.
Give me a bit more info on the Mater show. 
This photo really encapsulates the many themes that this show explores. This exhibition presents Ahmed Mater's nearly decade long project to document unprecedented changes in the holy city of Mecca. In the background you see the Ka'aba inside the Grand Mosque, the final destination of the hajj pilgrimage.
Surrounding that you see the many signs of expansion and development that are constantly changing the landscape of the city. In the foreground you have Jibreel, a construction worker involved in one of the many projects the city is engaged in to accommodate the constant influx of pilgrims.
It really highlights that this exhibition not only explores the collective experience of the hajj and these large scale construction projects but also the impacts of these changes on local communities and individuals.
How did he make this?
This was made using two magnets and iron filings! The Ka'aba-like black cube on the surface is one of the magnets, while the other is below the surface. Together, the magnets create a magnetic field that allows Mater to twist the iron filings into an upright circle around the black cube.
The artist installed this work himself, shifting the magnets into place with his own hand. By activating the sculpture himself, he makes us think about the scale of the work in comparison to the individual and to the real Ka'aba.
I was close in my guess—but without the second magnet it couldn’t work. I really like its simplicity in the cacophony of the exhibit. It’s so effective.
Tell me more. 
This photograph shows central Mecca as it appears today. In the circle at the center is the Ka'aba, Islam's holiest building and a central part of the yearly hajj. Surrounding the Ka'aba is the Grand Mosque, and behind the Grand Mosque is the new Abraj Al-Bait Endowment Complex, a commercial complex that includes over 4,000 shops, the world's third tallest building, the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, and over 800 hotel rooms in addition to residences and a museum.
Thanks for sharing this information.
Does Ahmed Mater still practice medicine? How did he make the transition from doctor to artist?
Ahmed Mater practiced medicine until very recently, and has been called a “doctor-artist.” He has even worked at the army hospital in Abha. However, he is primarily an artist.
Mater started to create art while he was still a teenager and continued to do so as he studied medicine at King Khalid University.
Eventually he started applying various aspects of his medical training to art. For instance, in documenting Mecca he views the city as a system, like a human body. His photographs are an attempt to analyze and perhaps even diagnose that system.
He also arrived at photography as a medium through his use of x-rays.
Do you know why so many Burmese immigrants moved to Mecca? Did they expect to find work there?
The Burmese Muslims are from the Rohingya community of Myanmar and many have come to Mecca as refugees, fleeing religious persecution. Some came on their hajj and simply stayed, while others came for work and stayed as well.
Thank you for all the input! This is a really cool way of getting in touch with the artwork.