Born to Palestinian parents living in exile in Beirut, Hatoum became doubly exiled, during a visit to London, when war broke out in Lebanon in 1975. Her early works in performance and video explicitly challenged Western attitudes towards political events in the Middle East as well as issues of identity. She used her body as a metaphor for oppression both on personal and on more general levels. Hatoum made Changing Parts during a year's residency at Western Front Art Centre in Vancouver, Canada. It is a Western Front Production. It operates through the juxtaposition of two strands of ambiguously contrasting image and sound. She has said: 'I want to remind the audience that there are different realities that people have to live through … Changing Parts … is about such different realities - the big contrast between a priviledged space, like the West, and the Third World where there's death, destruction, hunger.' (Quoted in Mona Hatoum, 1997, p.127.)
Material for one part of the video was derived from super-8 footage of a seven hour performance Hatoum made in 1982 at the London Film Makers Co-op and Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth, titled Under Siege, in which she moved around in a transparent plastic cubicle-like container filled with mud. In Changing Parts, grainy freeze-frame images of the artist's face and mouth as she struggles to bite and tear her way out of the mud-smeared plastic membrane are intercut with a series of black and white photographs of a bathroom interior. These were taken in the bathroom in Beirut while Hatoum was visiting her family. The video begins with the tranquil bathroom photographs accompanied by Bach's Cello Suite No.4. This mood is abruptly shattered by the disorientating cacophony of street noise and half-audible news reports which accompany the images from Under Siege, providing a claustrophobic and visceral contrast to the peaceful images of tiles and water which preceded. The transition from first to second sequence is violent and grating, implying a harsh reality outside invading the secure internal space. But the bathroom's tranquillity could also be seen as static and cold, while in the second part a sense of birth and vitality is communicated, suggesting productivity as the artist appears to be tearing herself out of a womb. Neither of the two parts is privileged over the other, indicating that Hatoum is expressing difference rather than making a didactic political statement, drawing the viewer's attention to the difficult co-existence of contrasting extremes within social structures on both microcosmic (individual and familial) and macrocosmic (political) levels.
Mona Hatoum, exhibition catalogue, Arnolfini, Bristol 1993, pp.20, 26
Michael Archer, Guy Brett, Catherine de Zegher, Mona Hatoum, Mona Hatoum, London 1997, pp.52-3, 127, reproduced p.52