I have liked the work of Mona Hatoum, a lot and for a long time (the Centre Pompidou is showing her works until September 28): her first daring performances, her empowerment as an Arab women, her use of the body as a working tool and weapon, her brutality and soberness. And in this exhibit, I have been happy to find anew the inspiration that has filled her for so long in some pieces. I am still just as moved by the Keffieh woven with human hair, with its sexual ambiguity and its tension between resistance and ordinariness, just as moved by all the pieces where hair (hers, and other women’s) are rolled, mixed or braided into jewels, ornaments or cloth.
I still like her dangerous works just as much: the impenetrable cube made of barbed wire hovering above the floor (picture above – a title of course referring to Soto), the disturbing rabbit hutch, a luminous and unstable prison world (picture below), all works which imperil both the artist and the spectator and universally evoke violence, repression, exile. I am still incredibly moved by the video Measures of distance, letters sent to her by her mother written over static images of her the latter taking a shower.
But… In this very complete retrospective that puts her work in perspective, one sad evidence is clear: Mona Hatoum has softened, she has chosen to bend to the market, probably under the influence of her gallery. She has chosen to make more and more pleasing, seductive, illustrative, easy-to-sell works that have no soul, no depth, no ambiguity. And so we have some cute crib in glass or cutting steel, an over-large cheese-grater (below), electrical kitchen utensils, chairs sewn together or ornamented with pubic hair, world-maps in glass marbles (to be honest, very pretty…), and many other works that feel like method, repetition, opportunity – a lock on the former freedom and insolence.
It is so disappointing to see such a great artist bend to the market, fall into easy recipes, become, in the words of Anne Malherbe, “clean and odorless.” Even her biography no longer identifies her as Palestinian, but “British born from Palestinian parents.” A form of disavowal. Sad.
Original publication date by Lunettes Rouges: September 1, 2015.
Translation by Ludmilla Barrand