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The Art Story Homepage Artists Mona Hatoum

Mona Hatoum

Palestinian/British Sculptor and Multimedia Artist

Mona Hatoum Photo

Born: 1952 - Beirut, Lebanon

"Often the work is about conflict and contradiction - and that conflict or contradiction can be within the actual object"

Summary of Mona Hatoum

Hatoum weaves together a minimalist vision with actual bodily material. As such, although her work often appears to be anonymous and well-contained upon first glance, after detailed inspection we realise that it is in fact resolutely individual and scattered in pieces. There is an edge of tension at the core of this artist's practice, as she regularly unites themes of the personal and the political, the public and the private, and of pain and pleasure. She sees her role as an artist to pose questions rather than to answer them and as a Palestinian woman who has lived the majority of her life in London, the question of what is and where is 'home' constantly penetrates her work. So too does an exploration of shifting borders (both physical and emotional) and the remains of things, be it the shedding of own bodies or the debris created after an event.

Hatoum's interest in what remains can be as historical and universal as her recent Hiroshima works, or as mundane and particular as the stains on a takeaway carton. The point being that apparently incidental oil stains on throwaway food plates, can, with the right eye, and a big imagination, become wondrous world maps that make profound statements on humanity and life lived in a global landscape. Despite Hatoum's obvious personal political struggles, her work speaks of something wider-reaching, more ambiguous, and slippery in intent and meaning. Like the Surrealists before her, Hatoum sees things differently - think of René Magritte's Personal Values (1952) and Meret Oppenheim's Fur Teacup (1936) - and encourages her audience to do the same, to explore multiple readings of her work and to start by putting a mirror up to themselves.

Key Ideas

The artist often uses threat and the suggestion of violence to make the familiar feel dangerous. For example, domestic objects such as kitchen utensils have been both enlarged and electrified to inherit sinister rather than comforting characteristics. Such inclination to re-visit familiar objects and to make them appear foreign and strange is a tendency that Hatoum shares with Louise Bourgeois. Both artists interestingly and successfully explore Sigmund Freud's concept of The Uncanny and express the notion that home is not always as it seems.
Hatoum typically infuses her work with humor. She plays with titles, for example The Grater Divide and Light Sentence, making witty references to the way that we use language. This element of her work is very important, for however serious the subject she may be investigating - this could be war or gender relations - there is always a balancing aspect that smart humor offers. In the end, it is this embedded lightness that gives the viewer the necessary means to understand an important, weighty, and deeply serious message.
The work of Hatoum investigates the concept of the 'abject' introduced by the cultural theorist, Julia Kristeva. Hatoum is attracted to a 'corporeal reality', to a breakdown between the self and other, and to facing and exploring inevitable death and decay. She explores this notion through the regular use of her own body as art material including nails, skin, and hair.
Hatoum expresses a recurring visual interest in prison, cage, or mesh-like structures. This repeated exploration of a grid motif, be it tiny or vast in scale, further reveals the artist's long-standing interest in tension and paradox. Her overlapping and interwoven lines stand as much for notions of strength and connectivity as they do for vulnerability and restriction. As such, Hatoum asserts a crucial and inherent interest in the combination of opposites and in the exploration of the illuminating tension that is created when conflicting ideas meet.
Mona Hatoum Exhibition at The Fundació Miró in Barcelona, Spain

Hatoum puts her heart and soul into her work, admitting that she has been “terrified” before performances, and sometimes sleeping only four hours a night ahead of shows. Speaking about the emotional toll the work would take in 2016, she said: “I used to think, why am I putting myself through this? There’s enough tension and anxiety in my life already.”

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