Under Siege

about Mona Hatoum

Insomnia is happening in the comfortable embrace of your bed, you’re tossing and you’re turning, but you just can’t fall asleep anymore. Troubling thoughts are grating your head like a cheese, and maybe you’re considering some kind of therapy or fakir’s remedy. Well, if that’s how you really feel, like under siege, maybe you just need something like a grater up off the ground.

Mona Hatoum is from a place where everyone gossips about you, where people are always sticking their nose in your affairs. When she came to London, her first impression was the control on the individual, the surveillance issues, cameras pointing at you all the time. That’s why these things came into her work right from the beginning. She started seeing the class system for the first time, and race relations. She discovered feminism from the women around her and she got involved with consciousness-raising groups. After that, Mona saw herself in a different light. She was very vulnerable, alone, no support structure, nothing behind her: “It was difficult. But my eyes were wide open”.

Performance Still 1985, 1995 by Mona Hatoum born 1952



Born in Beirut to a Palestinian family, Mona settled in England in 1975. Her work creates a challenging vision of our world, exposing its contradictions and complexities, often making the familiar uncanny. Through the juxtaposition of opposites such as beauty and horror, she engages us in conflicting emotions of desire and revulsion, fear and fascination.

In 1982, she staged a performance piece at the Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth. Its title was Under Siege, and it lasted for seven hours. Mona was naked, covered in clay, and trapped inside a huge transparent container, a strange primeval mermaid without any water in which to swim. Again and again, she would try to stand up, again and again, she would fail. As the day wore on, the tank’s walls grew dirty, smeared with marks left by her muddy hands and body, her cheeks, her lips. Meanwhile, the gallery filled with the sound of revolutionary songs in Arabic, French and English, and with snatched news reports from the Middle East. One of her last exhibitions was at the Tate Modern, in 2016.





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