Ahl Al Medinah, Shurafa' Al Ayn
Collaboration with Qais Assali
The Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL, USA, 2020
The Lubeznik Center for the Arts, Michigan City, IN, USA, 2019
6018North, Chicago, IL, USA, 2018
Concrete, silk velvet, pending licensing agreement
The Arab lady passing by said that this building was built by Arab nobles. Assali said who are the Arab Nobles and how do you know this?
Assaley first brought Assali to the Medinah Temple to show him the unusual tarboush she found inside of the Bloomingdale’s display cases. Upon entering, Assaley and Assali first faced the plaque which venerates the building’s original Oriental Guide, John P. Garner, among other Shriner officers. A.A.M.O.N.S. stretches across the top of the plaque.
The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.M.O.N.S.) is a sub-organization of Freemasonry, not connected to Arab culture or Islam, that has used terms such as brotherhood, fraternity, and secret society to describe itself and its Orientalist practices. Since its formation in 1870, Shriners have remapped the Arab World onto the United States by appropriating the names of cities and countries for Shriner chapters. Cases of this include Mecca Shriners in New York, NY; Medinah Shriners in Chicago, IL; Habibi Shriners in Lake Charles, LA; and Moslem Shriners in Detroit, MI.
The Arab tourists and diaspora Assaley and Assali encountered while taking the mold of the Medinah Temple’s bawaba (gate) stopped to see this Arabesque building in the center of a Western cosmopolitan city. Next to the bawaba’s misspelled Arabic and distorted Islamic geometry, onlookers were met with Western stained glass, woodworking, and brick wrapping around the entire exterior.
Discovering that the Medinah Temple presents as a mosque but was never a mosque and was, in fact, a theater incited Assaley and Assali to question what it means for this temple to Orientalism and misrepresentation to be occupied by Bloomingdale’s. A theater serving as an occult gathering place and costumed as a mosque now wears a Bloomingdale’s logo and continues to confuse the location, function and framing of site.
The Shriner Officer position “Oriental Guide” appears in Shriner manuals as “Sharif Al Ayn”, translating more directly to Sheriff of the Gaze. Ahl Al Medinah, Shurafa’ Al Ayn (The People of Medinah, Sheriffs of the Gaze) considers the materiality of the gazes around the Medinah Temple and alleviates the distraction that is the beautiful grandeur of the bawaba and theater to focus on the false language and substance the tiles and drapery contain.