Art Review: Mona Hatoum Exhibition


Surreal, painful, and mesmerising are three words that for me sum up the experience of Mona Hatoum’s exhibition at the Tate Modern. Hatoum is a Lebanese-born Palestinian artist who specialises in installations and video art. Although she was born in Lebanon the artist does not identify as Lebanese, and this sentiment creeps through much of her work. During a visit to London in 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon and Hatoum was forced into exile. She stayed in London, training at both the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art between the years 1975 and 1981. Displacement and identity crisis are key themes that come to light in her work. Hatoum’s exhibit at the Tate Modern includes key pieces created across thirty-five years, from her early performance videos to large scale sculptures and installations.

As soon as you enter the exhibit you immediately feel on edge and slightly uncomfortable. The majority of the exhibits use mundane household items as mediums. There is also a large use of bodily waste, for example hair and fingernails. The artist is renowned for the political nature of her work but you’d be missing out if you read her work as purely political. Her works are less a direct comment on the Middle East’s current political climate but instead physical responses to her emotional turmoil that has come as a result of conflict.

One of the works of art on display that I believe embodies this tension between the political and the personal was Keffieh (1993-1999). The work is based on the traditional Arabic headscarf with its iconic black and white pattern. Upon closer inspection one soon realises that the distinctive pattern has been embroiled with long dark strands of human hair. The scarf within the Arab community holds masculine connotations which Hatoum has disrupted with the feminine associations that come with long hair.

Whilst it does seem very dark and gloomy, there was an element of otherworldliness that taps into childhood imagination, for example the Grater Divide which is a six-foot-tall re-creation of a Victorian fold-out cheese grater. The enlarged household appliance transports viewers to another dimension with connotations of Alice in Wonderland. The distortion of everyday items highlights the surreal nature of Hatoum’s work.

This exhibition is one that I highly recommend anyone and everyone go to see as it holds elements that will engage anyone at any age, whether it be a giant cheese grater or pillows embroidered with hair. Mona Hatoum’s exhibition is a physical space in which we have been invited to immerse ourselves in a world created by the artists herself, a world which I believe provides viewers with an intimate window into her psyche.

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