Sufi Tombs and Sea Burials, Performing Preservation

A performance lecture by Moad Musbahi

Moad Musbahi’s research investigates migration as a social practice, looking at its associated forms of knowledge and cultural production within the Sahara. In this performance lecture he will present ongoing work around Sufi shrines in North Africa, their historic social and cultural function and their present state within African Islamic imaginaries.

Tombstones fulfill a basic function, they present a material sign indicating the presence of the dead. Yet in the Islamic tradition, tombstones do not simply mark the presumed presence of a corpse below; through directive inscriptions, they instruct visitors in the present. By commanding visitors to voice aloud, a performative utterance, they create an operation that connects at each encounter the living to the dead. This funerary performance and the cultural production it engenders sees a direct example through Sidi Ahmad Shashkal, a seaside Sufi tomb in Morocco. The essay-film and talk presented here will explore the story of this coastal space, a place founded for teaching the rites of Hajj then transformed into a ‘Pilgrimage of the Poor’, a spiritual destination in itself. Facing neglect and rising sea levels it is currently being submerged. In this liminal state, the saintly corpse begins to drift sluggishly into the ocean. Out in the fluid currents, and the murky depths, this condition challenges the traditional categorisations of cultural heritage and speculates on how the past might be mobilised against the slow erasure of the future.

Musbahi is a visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art. He recently curated ‘In Pursuit of Images’ (2020) at the Architectural Association, an exhibition on experimental documentary film practices and was part of the curatorial team for the inaugural edition of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial (2019). Moad’s work has been featured in exhibitions including most recently: ‘How to Disappear’ at Beirut Art Center, Beirut (2019) and Warehouse421 (2019) and ‘Architecture of the Territory’ (2019) at Beit Beirut, Beirut. Recent publications include ‘Asl (Origin)’ in AA Files 76, (2019) and ‘face me I face you’ in NOIT — 5: bodies as in buildings, Flat Time House (2019) and ‘The Sahara Is not a Desert: Re-Mapping Libya, Unravelling the State,’ The Funambulist 18 Cartography & Power, (2018).

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