Mona Hatoum is a Palestinian video artist and installation artist born in Lebanon. Her work transforms familiar every-day objects such as chairs and kitchen utensils into dangerous and threatening and alarming sculptures and exhibits, mirroring the harshness of life and exile. She uses an unconventional range of media and became known in the early 1980s for performance and video pieces which used her own body to explore the fragility and strength of the human condition under threat.
‘Although I was born in Lebanon, my family is Palestinian. And like the majority of Palestinians who became exiles in Lebanon after 1948, they were never able to obtain Lebanese identity cards. It was one way of discouraging them from integrating into the Lebanese situation. Instead, and for reasons that I won’t go into, my family became naturalized British, so I’ve had a British passport since I was born. I grew up in Beirut in a family that had suffered a tremendous loss and existed with a sense of dislocation.
When I went to London in 1975 for what was meant to be a brief visit, I got stranded there because the war broke out in Lebanon, and that created another kind of dislocation. How that manifests itself in my work is as a sense of disjunction. For instance, in a work like Light Sentence, the movement of the light bulb causes the shadows of the wire mesh lockers to be in perpetual motion, which creates a very unsettling feeling. When you enter the space you have the impression that the whole room is swaying and you have the disturbing feeling that the ground is shifting under your feet. This is an environment in constant flux—no single point of view, no solid frame of reference. There is a sense of instability and restlessness in the work. This is the way in which the work is informed by my background.
On the other hand, I have now spent half of my life living in the West, so when I speak of works like Light Sentence, Quarters and Current Disturbance as making a reference to some kind of institutional violence, I am speaking of encountering architectural and institutional structures in Western urban environments that are about the regimentation of individuals, fixing them in space and putting them under surveillance. What I am trying to say here is that the concerns in my work are as much about the facts of my origins as they are a reflection on or an insight into the Western institutional and power structures I have found myself existing in for the last 20-odd years.’
– Excerpt from an interview with Mona in BOMB Magazine
The Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said said of Mona, ‘No one has put the Palestinian experience in visual terms so austerely and yet so playfully.’