Mona Hatoum was born in Lebanon in 1952. Her work, which focuses on the body, initially took the form of performance and video. Since 1989 she has concentrated on sculpture and installation. She lives and works in London.
The body is central to Mona Hatoum’s work. In a number of early performance and video pieces she used her own body as raw material, subjecting herself to intense physical ordeals whilst exploring the power relationships between victim and oppressor. In the late 1980s her work moved towards sculpture and installation, and Hatoum shifted the focus from her body to that of the viewer. She uses space, light and materials to make work that inspires both attraction and repulsion, creating a tension that serves to heighten the viewer’s physical and psychological response.
The works shown here refer to objects generally associated with rest and recuperation, evoking the body as relaxed or vulnerable. However, the spare, unyielding metal implies not support or security, but a state of suffering and abuse. The reduced, minimal form of Divan Bed and the cage-like structure of the cot become oppressive emblems of imprisonment and violence. By replacing a mattress with thin wires, and wheelchair handles with knives, the artist adds an element of real threat.
Hatoum’s work is rooted in her own history as an exile. She was born into a Palestinian family living in Beirut and was visiting London when war broke out in Lebanon in 1975. Unable to return, the sense of displacement she felt was amplified by conflicting emotions of welcome and hostility, safety and frustration. These and other contradictory states, such as distance and proximity, oppression and liberation, surveillance and privacy, are recurrent and pervasive themes.