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View of “Ahmed Mater,” 2017. From left: Road to Mecca II, 2017; Road to Mecca I, 2017. Photo: Jonathan Dorado.

Ahmed Mater

Brooklyn Museum

View of “Ahmed Mater,” 2017. From left: Road to Mecca II, 2017; Road to Mecca I, 2017. Photo: Jonathan Dorado.

One of the standout collateral exhibitions during Art Dubai 2017 was by Saudi physician-turned-artist Ahmed Mater, based on his extensive research on the recent development and expansion of the holy city of Mecca. Conducted over a decade and compiled in his book Desert of Pharan: Unofficial Histories Behind the Mass Expansion of Mecca (2016), this work provided the foundation for Mater to create a rich, visually annotated timeline that simultaneously tracked the city’s history alongside that of mankind’s ambition to build the sort of grand structures that eventually became skyscrapers. For “Mecca Journeys,” at the Brooklyn Museum, Mater continued to expand on this research to provide invaluable insight about and intimate access to a city otherwise off-limits to non-Muslims.

As the religious center of the Muslim world, Mecca is both a symbolic and a real city. Imagined as eternal,

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