Friday, August 2, 2019

Mona Hatoum :: Artist Mona Hatoum Essays

Mona Hatoum Most art scholars and critics examine the work of Mona Hatoum in relation to her ethnic and geopolitically charged background. In her own writings and interviews, however, Hatoum cautions against this "journalistic" approach. For her, the most important element of her art is its relationship to the body. When Hatoum immigrated from the Middle East to England, she immediately felt a sense of displacement when she perceived a mind/body disjunct that contradicted her own cultural experience: †¦it became immediately apparent to me that people were quite divorced from their bodies and very caught up in their heads, like disembodied intellectuals. So I was always very insistent on the physical in my work (Hatoum/Brett, 59). We relate to the world through our senses. You first experience an artwork physically†¦Meanings, connotations and associations come after the initial physical imagination, intellect, psyche are fired off by what you've seen (Hatoum/Archer, 8). I weigh this statement against theory by performance scholar Nelly Richard: The body is the physical agent of the structures of everyday experience. It is the transmitter of cultural messages†¦a repository of memories, an actor in the theatre of power, a tissue of affects and feelings. Because the body is at the boundary between biology and society†¦in terms of power, biography and history, it is the site 'par excellence' for transgressing the constraints of meaning (Richard, 208). Focusing on four works by Hatoum, I take a position that respects the artist's own intent and uses the body as a starting point for analyzing her work. However, I argue that it is necessary to consider her background in relation to the content of her art; it is because of her background as an exile from political violence that so much of Hatoum's work evokes a sense of danger by eliciting a visceral response from the viewer. I also argue that Hatoum's work insists that the viewer recognizes a second body, the implicit body of the oppressed. That insistence comes primarily from two elements of her background: her direct experience of living in the shadow of oppression, and her experience with feminist groups as an art student in London. Thus, in Hatoum's work, two bodies-the body of the viewer and an implicit body--engage in a dialectic. Necessarily then, I offer a brief glimpse into the background of Mona Hatoum. She is a Palestinian whose parents were exiled to Lebanon before she was born.

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