Kader Attia’s History of a Myth: The Small Dome of the Rock. By Laurie Ann Farrell, 2010

Aesthetic, cultural, philosophical and social theories all buttress the conceptual underpinnings of Kader Attia’s installations, photographs and films.

Well versed in French Theory, art history, and his personal history in Algeria, Attia creates work that provides a compendium of poetry, reflection and awareness.

For the 2010 Abraaj Capital Art Prize Attia has realized a new installation entitled History of a Myth: The Small Dome of the Rock.  This work reflects on the contentious historical terrain of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and presents a contemplative space where viewers can meditate on the beautiful projection of Attia’s readymade brass bolt and silver nut miniature sculpture magnified to many times its actual size.

Once projected to a monumental scale the very small assemblage evokes an architectural representation of the Dome of the Rock. Attia’s work creates a space for interpreting our contemporary global culture where pieces of information ebb and flow; where meaning is diluted and the true value of things can be lost.

The tiny sculpture of a bolt and nuts, enlarged many times through a live camera feed also becomes the reference for an emblematic monument of architecture of Arab-Muslim History, and then by association of the most complex contemporary conflicts. The audio component recreates the auditory experience of Attia’s visit to the monument where he recalled being surprised by the peacefulness of a gentle breeze blowing and birds chirping. Attia has translated this experience into an auditory recreation of wind charged with infrabass emanating through four small speakers to give the impression that the sound is being amplified from the small architectural sculpture.

When asked how this new work related to his earlier explorations of architectures relationship to nation building and Modernism, Attia replied, “The Dome of the Rock actually represents an important monument in both contemporary political culture and in the historical past.  My previous works on the roots of Modernism (especially on the works of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier) has been influenced by the Algerian architecture of Ghardaïa, and then through the archeology of this modernity I’m trying to understand first where this came from and why, and then to provide a critique of the failure of modernity in general.  The Dome of the Rock is a project that both critiques the perception that Western countries have about the contemporary and political history of the area of Jerusalem.”[1]

Attia believes architecture is a field that gathers (like any other field in the human creativity) economic, political and cultural issues.  “When architecture is built, it is never built by others, it is maybe the great difference between architecture and art.  Even if in previous times an authority ordered art, most of the artists today create their art without specific orders.  Architecture is totally different.  Architecture has first to do with politics, with the political order.  It is always a political, or religious order, or power that commissions an architect to build a monument.  That is why I’m very fascinated by architecture because generally when I say art asks questions and architecture gives answers it is more because as an answer to an order, architecture has to do with the economic, political and cultural issues of its time, but the more architecture exists through time, the freer it becomes and the more it becomes a marker of its time.  Architecture is less interesting in its own contemporaneity.  To appreciate architecture we need time.  During its own time, a monument is not so strong.  What I like very much with the Dome of the Rock is that it is at the center of a big conflict between Jewish and Muslim communities in Jerusalem.  Each community claims that they were there before the other.  The Jewish sources claim the Temple of Solomon was built in Jerusalem first, whereas the Muslims claim that Mohammed came here and he used the rock to ascend to paradise.”


History of a Myth: The Small Dome of the Rock creates an experience for visitors.  The artist presents the beauty of the architectural monument that is often forgotten amongst the debates and disagreements.  In his seminal text “The Dome of the Rock,” historian and archeologist Oleg Grabar posits that there are four ways to think about the monument in our contemporary times.  “First, the building can be thought of as a political symbol of an Islam-dominated but not exclusively Muslim Palestine.  And as such it can be transformed into a place for legitimating power.”[2]  Second, the Dome of the Rock can be revered as a Muslim holy place.  Third, the monument can be considered a work of world art to be appreciated on an aesthetic level.  And finally, Grabar suggests, “this monument can be considered the temporary occupant of a Jewish holy space, The Temple Mount – the site of the destroyed Temple of Jerusalem, which according to Jewish religious law, cannot be rebuilt until the coming of the Messiah.”[3]  He closes by suggesting that all of these considerations together put the monument in a historical limbo.


Visitors to Attia’s installation will surely enjoy the peacefulness of being bathed in the light from the projection and serenity of the audio component.  Individuals will also surely bring their own personal interpretations of The Dome of the Rock with them into the space.  As an artist and storyteller, Attia suggests that everything can change if you change your mind. Through the simple gesture of pairing down the monument to a readymade sculpture, Attia also reminds us that poetry is available to everyone.

Laurie Ann Farrell is an art historian, curator and Executive Director of Exhibitions for the Savannah College of Art and Design, which operates galleries in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, USA; Lacoste, France; and Hong Kong. From 1999 to 2007 Farrell was curator at the Museum for African Art in New York. Farrell earned her MA in Art History and Theory from the University of Arizona.


[1] Conversation with the artist, January 2010.

[2] Oleg Grabar, The Dome of the Rock, (Cambridge and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006) 211.

[3] Ibid, p. 211-12.

Published in: Nafas Art Magazine, March 2010.

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