artist of the day #30: Mona Hatoum

Sometimes the placement or presentation of an artwork really catches my attention. In one of my recent/many visits to the Brooklyn art museum I came across a piece that was not on display in the way most of the work in the building was. In fact, at first glance, I thought it was just a sign for the museum, that was telling me where the nearest bathroom was, or not to bring drinks into the museum, or something like that. But upon closer inspection, I realized it was a piece of art. It only really caught my attention because half the sign was in Hebrew. It said very plainly that “Waiting is Forbidden” on a small piece of metal, placed high on the wall like a sign, instead of eye level, like a piece of art. This was my introduction to the artist Mona Hatoum.

Upon further research when I got home, I learned that Mona is much more than a clever sign maker, she is a very accomplished performance and installation artist. She is a Palestinian born in Lebanon, who has since been exiled due to civil war breaking out while she was visiting London in 1975. She first attended school as a graphic artist to meet some compromise with her father, who was very against her becoming an artist at all, but was willing to accept graphic art as at least an attempt at a real career.

Her earlier work is marked mostly as being performance. She gravitated toward using her own body as a tool to invoke questions about sexuality, politics, and freedom away from normal domestic life. Later she on she began to focus more on installations, quoting that her performances were “politically too direct” and thought art should be more about interactivity and planting an idea for viewers to develop their own conclusions. And that through installations, people could be influenced by her ideas without her presence being necessary. Both her performances and installations have had many common themes such as her own ethnic background, human freedoms and injustices, as well as the female body. She tends to work with contrasting ideas such as in the piece Mexican Cage where she makes a prison the represent the type of lifestyle many Mexicans are forced to endure, while painting it colorful to represent Mexican culture’s ability to celebrate life.

“I’m often asked the same question: What in your work comes from your own culture? As if I have a recipe and I can actually isolate the Arab ingredient, the woman ingredient, the Palestinian ingredient. People often expect tidy definitions of otherness, as if identity is something fixed and easily definable.” –Mona Hatoum