Tuesday 26th September 2017

Mona Hatoum

Mona Hatoum was born in Beirut to Palestinian family in 1952. She lives in London.

Hatoum challenges the movements of surrealism and minimalism, making work which explores the conflicts and contradictions of our world. Her studies at the Slade School of Art coincided with developing ideas around gender and race, and she began to explore the relationship between politics and the individual through performance.

In the late 1980s she began to make installations and sculptures in a wide range of materials. These often use the grid or geometric forms to reference to systems of control within society. She has made a number of works using household objects which are scaled up or changed to make them familiar but uncanny.


It is the cartographer’s selection of graphic and artistic forms of display from which map-making draws its deep creative potential and its lasting power. Yet this power is all the more pronounced when the cartographer is, at heart, an artist. In our online look at maps created by artists (each of which is one of the many featured in our book Map Exploring the World), we’ve experienced a lot of powerful political commentary – often surreptitious in its execution.

As the writer of the foreword, modern cartography specialist John Hessler, puts it, this power is there “in the choice of form, colour and thematic emphasis, that the viewer may peer into the hidden, seldom considered fourth dimension of cartography: the one found in the minds of the cartographers themselves.” With that thought in our mind, today we’re looking at Mona Hatoum’s 1996 work Present Tense.

Across a grid of 2,400 square blocks of soap, wavering lines of tiny red glass beads embedded into the surface trace out an unfamiliar map.it depicts the disconnected territories agreed to be returned to Palestinian control in the Oslo Accords of 1993.

The maker, Hatoum, is a Palestinian artist who has lived her whole life in exile. She was born and raised in Lebanon after her parents fled Haifa and since 1975, when civil war broke out while she was in the United Kingdom, has been based in London Geography, nationality and dislocation are central to her varied artistic practice, through which she invites viewers to consider their place in the modern world and their relationship to its conflicts.


Present Tense

Maps are an abiding motif for the artist Mona Hatoum. A small carpet, like a prayer mat, depicts a map of the world. Sections seem to have been eroded to leave a negative space in the form of Peter’s Projection, which reveals the true proportions of distributed land mass, as opposed to that which is shown on traditional Western maps.

Elsewhere, a grid of 2,400 blocks of olive oil soap from the town Nabus, north of Jerusalem, sits on the gallery floor in a Carl André-style grid. Its surface is embedded with tiny beads that depict the map of the 1933 Oslo peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. Also marked are the territories that should have been handed back to Palestine. Present Tense, as it is called, was originally made in 1966, in Jerusalem and was Hatoum’s response to her first visit to that city.


Continental Drift

«Hatoum’s second work at the Tate, titled Continental Drift, is a horizontal map of the world in clear plastic with metal filings filling the seas. A magnetized bar circles like a watch’s second hand below, creating a tidal ‘wave’ of filings, which lap up onto the continents. Is this a hint of global warming and flooding?»



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