Article about Present Tense at Anadiel Gallery

features_2020_01_fMona Hatoum’s original proposal for a show at Anadiel Gallery in Jerusalem—sent in order for me to apply for a British Council grant —was to construct two false walls running parallel to each other, about one meter apart, stretching from the gallery’s entrance all the way to the back, creating a sort of passageway. Nails covering the entire surface of the two walls would protrude, with their pointed ends out into this passage.

The nails would be shiny and long so that when seen from afar they would seem to form a lustrous metallic surface covering the entire entrance. But of course, when one approached, pulled in by alluring surfaces, one would find oneself inside a trap—an unsettling perspective of a long, narrow passage and the fear that the walls, with their sharp protrusions, would close in. Mona and I were convinced that this would be the best project to present at Anadiel.

Article about Mona Hatoum by Anne Martens 2003


In recent years, Hatoum has focused on maps as a metaphor for global politics. In Continental Drift (2000), she constructed a clear plastic map with metal filings for seas. A magnetized bar charged the filings, shaping them into waves that overlapped continents. Present Tense (1996)–a floor map illustrating the division of land under the 1993 Oslo Peace Agreement–consisted of olive-oil soap blocks punctured with red beads.
Although Map has little personal specificity, its reference to global instability is one that we can all relate to. But it is the personal references, however indirect, that make Hatoum’s work powerful.

Mona Hatoum Interview with The Guardian 2016

“No one has put the Palestinian experience in visual terms so austerely and yet so playfully, so compellingly and at the same moment so allusively,” wrote Edward Said of Hatoum in a now well-known 2000 essay (in the same piece, he noted the way that her work has the ability to “recall and disturb” at the same time). But she isn’t so sure.

“I’m never trying to make a direct political statement. There are issues in my head, but they’re in the background; they’re not foregrounded in the work, and they’re not specific to my own history. In the mature work, I’m thinking about form most of all. I am focusing on the materials, on the aesthetic. In fact, I sometimes spend time trying to remove the content, the better to arrive at abstraction. The tension is between the work’s reduced form and the intensity of the possible associations. For instance, the hanging cube in Impenetrable (2009) has an ethereal quality, it is almost levitating, but the material it is made of, barbed wire rods, takes you into war zones and disputed borders. Similarly, the clear glass marbles in Map(clear) (2015), appear seductive, but they make the floor dangerous to walk on.”

Cartographies of Affect in the work of Mona Hatoum

Maps are instruments of power and serve to reorganize the flow, and borders serve to control the movements of people, and so it develops in her work Present Tense (1996). Within the artistic production of Hatoum, it is one of the first works to collapse the code and the form of the network and the map in the artistic production of Hatoum. Present Tense (1996) (fig. 1) is an installation consisting of a network of 2,200 blocks of square bars of olive oil soap, traditional in the city of Nablus, on which are embedded tiny red glass beads to form the territorial divisions of Palestine and Israel. It is the Oslo Agreement version of the Palestine partition, which Hatoum found when she arrived in East Jerusalem to stay at the Anadiel Gallery in 1996. It is a subversive act in reaction to violence, power and discrimination, which is executed in the political layout of the map. It is a “counter-geography”, as Irit Rogoff would say (2000).

Another work of Hatoum using the map as a model is Continental Drift (2000) (fig. 2). It is another abstract representation of how the world might look. It is a horizontal map of the world in transparent plastic, seen from the North Pole with metal filings covering the seas. A magnetized bar like a hand of a clock moves beneath, creating a wave like a tide, and its path is disfiguring and altering the continents. This is another map with unstable borders, where the territory presents itself as unstable, shifting. This is another cartography in which the movement and changing breaks down geographical boundaries, as a representation of the world through the drift.

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