Religious and spiritual pilgrimages have an otherworldly aura about them, something beyond and outside time. The performative experience of returning pilgrims is nearly always of spiritual vigour and eminent internal peace. This could be more true than the Muslim Hajj and ‘Umrah, performed annually in the case of Hajj, with rituals remaining literally unchanged since the foundations were sent down in the form of Quranic revelations to the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). Uniting collective performance with solitary spiritual communion with Allah, images of Islamic pilgrimage is nearly always the clichéd aerial photograph of the Ka’aba, the black cube the foundations of which were first laid by Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH), with an infinite number of pilgrims overwhelmingly surrounding it. Focusing more on the collective, communal aspect of pilgrimage, photographers and artists have rarely made an individual projection of one of the most important pillars of the Islamic faith.
The images here found by Nora Alissa are of another nature, showing an alternative, more personal experience. Unlike the sharp, crystal clear postcard images we have become used to, Alissa’s images are in black and white, blurry and often showing two different shots superimposed onto one another. Darkness pervades the group of photographs, with a teasing interplay with light. It is an entrance into the mysterious realm of spirituality, where the transcendent search for heavenly peace often becomes obscured by the shady ways of worldliness.
What is also interesting to contrast, is the semi-abstraction prevalent: there is no indexical sign pointing us to a representamen of Makkah, one of the two holy cities where Hajj and ‘Umra are performed. In fact, the physical environs become a sacred entity whereby communication with God becomes possible. In almost like a trance-like state, we enter the psyche of the photographer, totally immersed in the mystical experience of prayer and meditative rituals. Even the people photographed lost their human form and are almost like wispy spirits hovering around the Ka’ba seeking mercy and forgiveness. What is also important to note is the fact that this space is a holy one seen to be protected by angels according to Islamic scripture and beliefs. A holy enclosure, Makkah becomes the place for the purge of the heart and soul, where sins are erased and a whole new volume of life begins.