Mona Hatoum

The two pieces of work for Mona Hatoum that I plan to include in this dissertation are Present Tense (1996) and Continental Drift (2000).


Although the Palestinian artist in exile, Mona Hatoum uses maps in her artwork, these are not to make direct political statements, in fact her focus is more about the aesthetics of the artwork, the materials used and simplification to produce a reduced form that arrive at an abstraction which can then suggest many different associations with the piece.

The piece Present Tense (1996), the first cartographic piece by Mona Hatoum, constructed over the space of a week from olive oil soap bars which has been produced in the West Bank since the 14th Century, purchased by Hatoum in the local market. Red glass beads outlined the division of land in the 1993 Oslo Peace Agreement and were also purchased in the same local market. Originally created to be displayed at the Anadiel Gallery in Jerusalem, Present Tense was later acquired by the Tate Gallery in 2013.

The original intention was to mark the boundaries in the soap with nails, however considering that this appeared “aggressive” and “sad”, Hatoum chose the red glass beads instead.

Using a temporary material such as soap that will degrade over time, dissolving the borders defined by the red glass beads suggests the fluidity of borders that we see in our modern day world. Although conservation of the material was not a consideration at the time of making, newer pieces of soap are being covered in liquitex to conserve the colour and moisture content of the soap. We all associate soap with cleanliness and purity, yet this piece with the beads began to suggest that the soap had become unclean, diseased or untouchable and associations with the plight of the Palestinian people were beginning to take shape.

Having an unsettled personal history, Hatoum describes a feeling of not being able to take anything for granted, not even the solidity of the ground that you stand on.

Continental Drift, another cartographic piece created in 2000 from Iron filings and transparent plastic as a representation of the world from the North Pole. The iron fillings represent the ocean and a magnetized rotary arm passing over the iron filings creates a tidal wave that disfigures and alters the continents, continually shifting to show the instability in our geographical borders, suggesting that fixed boundaries that we know and accept can be destabilized by the presence of an overriding power, an invisible force that can affect our perception of the world.

Maps historically have been drawn and then redrawn time and again, the cartographic pieces of Mona Hatoum inspire reflection on the fluidity of our borders and boundaries and our identities that are intrinsically linked to these fixed delineations. By disfiguring her artwork, so to, our perceptions of the borders and boundaries become diffused and the sense of destabilisation lingers.

Bibliography Entries

Present Tense. (1996). Mona Hatoum [Olive Oil Soap, Red Glass Beads] Jerusalem: Anadiel Gallery.

Continental Drift. (2000). Mona Hatoum [Stainless Steel, Glass, Iron Filings, Electric Motor, Timer] London: Tate Britain.

Hatoum, M. (2000). Mona Hatoum. 1st ed. London: Tate Gallery Publishing.

Asperen, H. and Goudeau, J. (2014). The imagined and real Jerusalem in art and architecture. Leiden [u.a.]: Brill.

The Migrant’s Time Rethinking Art History and Diaspora. (2011). 1st ed. Massachusetts: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.

Thinking With Diagrams: The Semiotic Basis of Human Cognition – Semiotics, Communication and Cognition. (2016). 1st ed. De Gruyter.

Gržinić, M. (n.d.). Irit Rogoff, Terra infirma, Geography’s visual culture. (2013) London: Routledge.

Wood, D., Fels, J. and Krygier, J. (2010). Rethinking the power of maps. New York: Guilford Press.

Mona Hatoum by Janine Antoni. (1998). Bomb, (63).

Persekian, J. (2013). MONA HATOUM: PRESENT TENSE. Art Asia Pacific, [online] (84). Available at: http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/84/PresentTenseMONAHATOUM  [Accessed 26 Oct. 2017].

Martens, A. (2003). Mona Hatoum. ArtScene, [online] (July/August 2003). Available at: http://artscenecal.com/ArticlesFile/Archive/Articles2003/Articles0703/MHatoumA.html [Accessed 26 Oct. 2017].

Cooke, R. (2016). Mona Hatoum: ‘It’s all luck. I feel things happen accidentally’. The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/apr/17/mona-hatoum-interview-installation-artist-tate-modern-exhibition [Accessed 26 Oct. 2017].

Um.es. (2017). Cartographies of affect in the work of Mona Hatoum – Espacio articulado. [online] Available at: http://www.um.es/artlab/index.php/cartographies-of-affect-in-the-work-of-mona-hatoum/ [Accessed 24 Oct. 2017].

Postcolonial.org. (2008). Hatoum, Said and Foucault: Resistance through Revealing the Power-Knowledge Nexus? [online] Available at: http://postcolonial.org/index.php/pct/article/viewFile/891/79  [Accessed 24 Oct. 2017].

Tate (2011). Mona Hatoum – Studio Visit | TateShots. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs3DzydSKu8 [Accessed 26 Oct. 2017].

Serpentine Galleries (2011). Mona Hatoum – Mappings. [online] Vimeo. Available at: https://vimeo.com/24541176  [Accessed 26 Oct. 2017].

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