"When we look at the Ka'bah covered in black there is something unimaginable behind it."
And I use art in the loosest sense of the word. While the State Department supposedly didn't have enough money to cover security at the Benghazi mission... leading to the murder of four Americans... it seems to have plenty to dump on Art in Embassies.
The "work" Black Arch by two Saudi sisters looks like a leftover prop from Studio 54. It's reportedly very popular among Khat-chewers and those importing some mind-expanding Western drugs.
What is it about? As with all modern art, there's a statement. Because just seeing it tells you absolutely nothing because it is absolutely nothing.
“The work is a stage, set to project the artists’ collective memory of Black — the monumental absence of colour — and physical representation of Black, referring to their past."
So it's black. Really black. Like the hearts of top staffers at the State Department.
The experience with the physical presence of Black is striking for the artists as Raja explains, “I grew up aware of the physical presence of Black all around, the black silhouettes of Saudi women, the black cloth of the Al ka’ba and the black stone which supposedly is said to have enhanced our knowledge.”
Look! There are black things in our culture. And we're referencing them. It's art.
So enmeshed in all that blackness, the State Department knew it just had to have the giant mirror and paid $150,000 in taxpayer money for the glorious privilege of owning this fantastic work of art.
Saudi Arabia is hardly a free society, but the Alem sisters behind it and their Black Arch was heavily promoted by the Saudi establishment. The stupid mirror thing was actually commissioned by Deputy Minister of Culture Abdulaziz Alsebail. Somehow we ended up paying for it instead.
But somehow is usually pretty straightforward when it comes to the State Department letting the Saudis use them like human puppets.
The Black Arch was meant to represent a link between Mecca and Venice, which made the State Department's purchase of it all the dumber. But here's the Saudi explanation of its meaning from Abdulaziz Alsebail.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a modern state with a rich culture, deeply rooted in history. The most monumental event in the history of Arabia was the revelation of Islam, a humanitarian message that is proud and respectful of the conviction of others and seeks to achieve peace in the world.
The Venice Biennale has been, for over a century the meeting place for artists and the showcase of the best art the world has to offer. It is the largest, most influential and most established art event, and this is why the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has chosen it as a platform to bring forth the message of the Saudi people who are confident of their values, and proud of their authenticity.
We proudly support our artists Shadia and Raja Alem, who, in the Black Arch, chose their home city of Makkah, a central point of radiance to embrace Venice, a city of openness in a connection between East and West
They further experienced the mystery associated with black, Raja says, in the kiswah that is draped over the Ka'bah in the Great Mosque in Makkah, where they attended prayers every Friday with their mother. "When we look at the Ka'bah covered in black," she says, "there is something unimaginable behind it."
A few weeks after their visit, the sisters had sketched what became "The Black Arch." Fuad Therman, director of Saudi Aramco's King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture and a member of the Saudi selection committee, said the committee "appreciated the emotional depth and visual strength" of the Alems' proposal.
While rich in symbolism, the Alems insist that "The Black Arch" is "not specific to any single place, culture or time," and that it is open to personal interpretation. For example, says Shadia, the cube, "may represent the Ka'bah" at the center of the Great Mosque, and the spheres may represent pilgrims...
So this is basically Islamic art. The State Department wouldn't spend money protecting Americans from Islamic terrorists, but did spend $150K on some symbolic reflection of Mecca.