The British Museum staged a major exhibition dedicated to Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.
"It is special in being the only aspect of Islam which non-Muslims cannot take part in. It is not merely a spiritual phenomenon; it has become a cultural phenomenon. The museum has always sought to present a connection between faith and society. It [the hajj] is a phenomenon that needs to be better understood than it is. It has become very clear to us that we've been looking to put on exhibitions about things people want to know about – such as Iran and Afghanistan – and questions people want to explore."
Venetia Porter, the curator for the exhibition, said: "The exhibition is about a journey and life-changing experience, a journey that has one purpose only – to reach the heart of Islam. We want people to understand what this experience has meant."
The exhibition, opened in January 2012, featured the work of contemporary Saudi artists such as Ahmed Mater, who has created an installation with magnets and iron filings to symbolise hundreds of thousands of pilgrims circumambulating the Ka'bah, the black granite cube in Mecca thought to be built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. There will also be work by Shadia Alem, one of two artists who represented Saudi Arabia for its debut at the Venice Biennale earlier this year while sound cones in the Reading Room will convey a sense of being in Mecca by transmitting the labbaik, the prayer recited by pilgrims as they carry out their rituals.
In addition to the rare objects on display, drawn from private and public collections, there were more prosaic items such as a ticket for a Thomas Cook hajj ship, which used to operate services across the Indian Ocean, a hajj proxy certificate, issued to those who are unable to perform the pilgrimage and have asked friends or family to perform it on their behalf, and pilgrims' diaries.
Although the preparation and rituals behind the pilgrimage have remained largely unchanged for 1,400 years, Mecca itself is evolving at a dizzying pace. Last month, in Jeddah, Saudi officials unveiled a £16bn development plan for the city, increasing its pilgrim capacity, strengthening its transport links and overhauling its appearance. The government's commission for tourism and antiquities said revenue from tourism in 2010 would reach $17.6bn, then almost double again by 2015. A $6bn, 276-mile rail link will connect Mecca with Medina, the home and burial place of Muhammad, while a multi-billion-dollar upgrade will increase the capacity of Medina airport from three million to 12 million passengers a year.
EOA.Projects works exhibited:
Ahmed Mater, Magnetism, 2012
Abdulnasser Gharem, Road to Makkah, 2011