Powerhouse Parramatta
chapter of the Quran
Bound chapter of Quran (dated 912AH Hijri, 1506CE Gregorian). Collection of Khaled Sabsabi. Photograph by Zan Wimberley

Moments in waiting

‘moments in waiting’ is a major new community history project led by acclaimed Lebanese-Australian artist Khaled Sabsabi.

The project focuses on the untold stories behind rare objects held by Muslim families in Western Sydney. Working closely in collaboration with Muslim communities and individuals, Sabsabi will unearth the stories behind treasured family objects and their spiritual connections. Sasabi will capture 99 objects, a reference to the most beautiful names of the Divine (Allah SWT). A multifaceted and reflexive portrait of the Muslim diaspora in NSW, ‘moments in waiting’ will invite us to rethink and reflect on what is sacred, and how this intersects with notions of memory, history, migration and the generational diasporic experience.

We are seeking members of Muslim communities and individuals across Greater Sydney who hold rare objects they consider sacred. These objects may be family heirlooms passed down from generations, acquired in the homeland, or recently and locally made objects that hold a spiritual significance. If you or someone you know has an object that fits this description and would like to share its history, please contact us at momentsinwaiting@maas.museum. Chosen participants will be paid a stipend to participate in the project, which may include a preliminary interview and one day of filming at their home.

Thank you for considering sharing your stories with us. Please contact: momentsinwaiting@maas.museum

Read more in Arabic, Bengali, Indonesian, Turkish, Urdu.

This interview was first published by Australasian Muslim Times January, 2023, and appears here with their kind permission.

Ivan Muniz Reed (IMR): Can you tell us about yourself?

Khaled Sabsabi (KS): I’m a Lebanese-Australian Muslim living and working in southwest Sydney. I have worked as a visual artist, a community cultural practitioner and educator for over three decades. My passion and commitment has always been about bringing underrepresented stories from the wider Muslim community to light, and sharing them with our broader Australian community.

IMR: You’re embarking on a major community project with Powerhouse for the opening of Powerhouse Parramatta in 2025. Can you tell us about it?

KS: ­­The title of the project is ‘moments in waiting’, and it began from an idea of a story that is waiting to be told and or waiting to be heard. It’s quite a poetic thought, I feel, as it brings attention to remarkable stories from our Australian Muslim communities.

The project focuses on the stories behind extraordinary objects kept by Muslim families across Greater Sydney, specifically those that are considered sacred. These may be family heirlooms, keepsakes, or may have a spiritual meaning for an individual, a family, or a community.

We hope to unearth these unique objects as means to keep these stories alive, which will not only contribute to cultural knowledge but also to the broader fabric of our modern society.

IMR: Can you tell us about the importance of a public call-out for the project?

KS: Spreading the word is essential to building the cultural wealth we have together as an Ummah. We’ve already started to approach individuals, NGOs, local mosques, and communities; we have also translated the callout into the five most spoken language groups with the hope of reaching people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

We are also hoping to collaborate with local Muslim radio stations and the Multicultural Eid Festival and Fair.

IMR: Can you give us examples of some of the unique objects you hope to find?

KS: I have a couple of coins from the Abbasid and Umayyad Caliphates, which are very special to me. I also have and treasure a leather-bound section of the Holy Quran which dates back 600 years, and besides the spiritual importance of the Quran, what’s also significant to me, is that it was handwritten by a soldier serving in the Ottoman Empire as a gift to his mother. I find that beautiful and sentimental – it’s the stories behind these objects that makes them such a gift for all to share.

We are remaining open to what may come, it may be a story rather than a physical object, maybe rosary beads gifted by a spiritual mentor, a piece of silver, incense, a flute, or a drum used in ceremonies. I would also like to emphasise that no story or object is insignificant.

IMR: We have spoken about the importance of self-determined storytelling. What does that mean for you and for the project?

KS: It’s about ensuring that stories are told by community and that the process is inclusive, comprehensive, and accurate in terms of preserving cultural identity and knowledge. It democratises the relationship between the expert and the storyteller, and brings everyone together on an equal plane, this is what I love about this project.

It’s only through listening to each other we can reach a broader understanding of who we are in this time and space.

IMR: How will you present these stories to the wider public?

KS: The conversations, stories and objects will inform the final presentation shape. We are hoping to go into families’ homes to interview them and capture their objects and stories through film.

I feel the outcome will have several layers that together will make a multifaceted and reflective portrait of the diversity and beauty of Australian Muslim communities.

IMR: You’ve mentioned the project will reflect on what is sacred, and how this intersects with notions of memory, migration, and the diasporic experience. How does it relate to your own experience?

KS: Displaced by the civil war, I fled Lebanon with my parents in the late 70s. I’ve always searched for a strong sense of belonging. There’s always that void, longing to that other place – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

We speak of the void as a negative thing, but within this void there are possibilities, and in fact, these experiences are inseparable from who we are.

‘moments in waiting’ will premiere at Powerhouse Parramatta in 2025.