Grater, nails, slicer, strainer, electric current, cages: works by Mona Hatoum (b. 1952 in Beirut) appear hostile. Hatoum was born in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Palestinian family, although her works have universal relevance. She came to Britain in the mid-1970s as a student and got stranded in London in 1975 as civil war erupted in Lebanon.
Grater Divide, 2002, Courtesy White Cube
Some installations are immediate; others are subtle, recalling Doris Salcedo’s works
Hatoum was best known as a video and performance artist until her Cardiff residence. She has focused on installations since the late 80s/early 90s. Some of her works are immediate, provoking instant revulsion and fascination; while some are more subtle, both recalling works by fellow female artist Doris Salcedo (b. 1958, Bogotá, Colombia).
Rejecting the traditional feminine domain of the kitchen
My friend D., who accompanied me at the opening, asked if gender was identifiable in her works. I believe so, although in a subverted way. Hatoum uses her own body and hair in her works, perhaps more archetypal of a female artist. But then she also used kitchen utensils, alien objects to her, according to co-curator of the exhibition Katy Wan. Those represent the traditional feminine domain of the kitchen, but Hatoum enlarges them to give them a threatening aspect.
References to art history, including Surrealism
Assistant curator Wan highlighted how Hatoum also subverted art history with works in homage to Piero Manzoni (Socle du Monde) and Jésus-Rafael Soto (Impenetrable). In the latter, barbed wire rods prevent spectators from entering the piece as they would in Rafael Soto’s kinetic cubes. Hatoum also referred to surrealism, taking on surrealist humour, titles, Max Ernst “frottage” technique, and direct references to Magritte.
Mona Hatoum’s first major survey of her work in the UK runs at Tate Modern until 21 August 2016. It was held in Paris’ Centre Pompidou – apropos Tate doesn’t have Map (clear) that was shown in Paris – and will travel to the Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki.
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