Kader Attia's History of a Myth: The Small Dome of the Rock

History of a Myth: The Small Dome of the Rock. Poetry and reflection in a contemplative space.
By Laurie Ann Farrell | Mar 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 in which pieces of information ebb and flow, 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 refers to an emblematic monument of architecture of Arab-Muslim history and then, by association, to the most complex contemporary conflicts. The audio component recreates the auditory experience of Attia's visit to the monument, where he was 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 infra-bass 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 architecture’s 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) were 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 critiques the perception that Western countries have of the contemporary and political history of the area of Jerusalem." [1]

Attia believes architecture is a field that (like any other field of human creativity) brings together economic, political, and cultural issues. "When architecture is built, it is never built by others; that may be the great difference between architecture and art. Even if in earlier 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 about 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 among 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 the 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 paring down the monument to a readymade sculpture, Attia also reminds us that poetry is available to everyone.


  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.

Laurie Ann Farrell

Art historian, curator, and Executive Director of Exhibitions for the Savannah College of Art and Design. 1999 - 2007 curator at the Museum for African Art in New York.

History of a Myth: The Small Dome of the Rock

Video installation

Kader Attia and curator Laurie Ann Farrell are recipients of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize 2010

Abraaj Group Art Prize
The Abraaj Group, Dubai International Financial Centre, Gate Village 8, 3rd Floor, PO Box 504905
United Arab Emirates
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The work was unveiled at Art Dubai on 16 March 2010

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Reflections on his installation "The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures", shown at Documenta 13, Kassel.
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