Building sights: Photos capture construction boom in holy city • Brooklyn Paper

Building sights: Photos capture construction boom in holy city

Ever-constructing: In Ahmed Mater’s 2012 photo, now on display at Brooklyn Museum, a construction worker poses atop a work site in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Ahmed Mater

Catch a glimpse of an unseen city!

A new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum makes visitors feel like they have traveled to the holy city of Mecca — a destination that is forbidden to non-Muslims. A Saudi photographer spent years documenting the construction boom that has recently transformed the city, and his show “Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys” uses enormous images to capture that transformation. The project began when Mater traveled to Mecca and discovered how much it had changed since his last visit — an impression at odds with his idea of the city as a sacred, unchanging place.

“When I returned in 2008, it was to a very complex, dynamic, and multifaceted place. So before the project began, there was a desire to capture this symbolic, imagined, remembered city, to try to align it with what was there, physically in front of me,” he said. “The cycles of construction and deconstruction, the changing city, meant I became compelled to dedicate five years of my life to documenting and recording the place, to what would eventually become a prayer for Mecca.”

The exhibit offers a unique glimpse at a city off-limits to most Brooklynites, said the show’s curator.

“Because Mecca is a city that can be visited only by Muslims, the exhibition provides a window into a place and a cultural many people in the world will never have the opportunity to experience first-hand,” said Catherine Morris. “This exhibition of Ahmed Mater’s decade-long study of the city presents a rare opportunity for Brooklyn Museum visitors to journey through this iconic city.”

Mecca is the symbolic heart of Islam, and all adult members of the faith are expected to complete a pilgrimage to the city at least once. Millions of pilgrims visit the city during the annual hajj period, but Mater wanted to capture more than just the religious aspects of the city — he also documents the urban projects underway, as well as the hustle and bustle of the city’s two million year-round residents.

“Mecca is not only a symbolic or holy city — it is a living city subject to the same social and infrastructural forces facing every major urban center in the world,” he said. “So it’s about a place, but it’s also about what that place means, and about many urban and social changes taking place around the world today.”

The exhibit includes 28 oversized photographs, six videos, a symbolic sculpture, and a floor-to-ceiling installation of windows that Mater rescued from historic building slated for demolition.

The large photos, the biggest of which is more than 10 feet long, help visitors to feel immersed in the scene, said Mater.

“It has been amazing to see how these unexpected perspectives of a city most of the audience have never, and will never visit, have surprised and engaged,” he said.

“Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys” at the Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 852–7755, www.brooklynmuseum.org]. $16 suggested donation.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.

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