As one of the most important artists of her generation, Lebanese-born Mona Hatoum stands as a major figure for contemporary practice, withholding important political sentiments and a poetically charged oeuvre. Tate Modern, London, have opened the first UK survey of her work, which reflects 35 years of radical thinking, perseverance and unapologetic responses to personal and universal issues.
Having worked across a variety of media, the show pays homage to an explosive and expansive career and displays over 100 works spanning video, sculpture, installation, photography and works on paper. Although rightly acclaimed and well-known for her large-scale installations, the show seeks to delve into the earlier contributions also, including pivotal moments of inspiration. Such pieces include her video works which utilise the body to explore divided realities – dichotomies between perceived identity and social control. Roadworks (1985) is a standout piece: a poignant turning point in her career, Hatoum documents a performance where she walked barefoot through the streets of Brixton with a pair of Dr. Marten boots tied to her ankles.
Further visceral and controversial works include Corps étranger (1994), which takes an endoscopic journey through the interior and exterior planes of the artist’s body. Demonstrating at once a vulnerability and powerful resilience, Hatoum allows the audience into an intimate physical space that can be both an identifiable and unrecognisable landscape. These diametric oppositions can be seen across more of her works, where a sense of self can be connected or divided from a body, and be a place of freedom or incarceration.
The artist holds many other concerns executed through formal and elemental consideration, issues of home and displacement are evident throughout the exhibition, for example Impenetrable (2009), a suspended square formed of hundreds of delicate rods of suspended barbed wire, and the iconic Light Sentence (1992). In this work, walls of industrial wire mesh lockers and a single moving lightbulb create geometric, staggering shadows that transform Tate into a disorientating unstable place. and. unstable place. It is in these installation works that Hatoum divulges political uncertainty and battles with national and personal identity as a concept that can be at once familiar and uncanny.
Whilst the issue of displacement seems more relevant than ever, Present Tense (1996) is an impressive structure that speaks intrinsically to an often fragmented world that contains many of the issues it did 20 years ago. Made from 2,200 cubes of traditional olive oil soap from Nablus, a city north of Jerusalem, lines of tiny red glass beads are pushed into the surface and depict the map of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accord between Israel and the Palestinian Authorities. Held in conversation with the more recent installation Twelve Windows (2012-13), Hatoum draws parallels between a world as it is now and how it it stood in the past. Comprising twelve pieces of embroidery made by Palestinian women living in refugee camps in Lebanon, the embroidery becomes an act of resistance. Organised and produced by Inaash, a Lebanese NGO, these delicately embroidered “windows” are suspended on crisscrossing steel cables, each one representing a key region of Palestine through their unique motifs, stitches, colours and patterns.
Perhaps now more telling than ever, the exhibition proves to be a major expression of artistic insight, challenging global instability whilst showcasing the tour de force works of a major artist working and contributing to today’s society.
Until 21 August, Tate Modern. For more information: www.tate.org.uk
1. Mona Hatoum, Light Sentence (1992). Courtesy of Centre Pompidou, Paris.