Representation of Women from the Middle East in the work by Neshat and Hatoum essay
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Let us consider to amazing artist from Middle Eat,Shirin Neshat and Mona Hatoum. Let us start with Neshat.
Shirin Neshat is Iranian photo-artist and film-director. Shirin Neshat lives in the USA. She became famous because of her work “Women of Allah”. The artists observes and destroys the stereotypes of women life in Moslem world.
Shirin Neshat was born and grew up in Iran, she decided to continue her study in USA. Shirin Neshat was not able to go to Iran, because of Islamic Revolution. She came home only in 1990, the woman was not able to recognize the country. She said that earlier they lived in free society, when she came back everything was changed. The basic colors were white and black, all women were in yashmak. She was shocked with it. The artist was not able to accept that measures that were in her country. It was the depression of rights of women. Earlier women yashmak was a symbol of protest against bourgeois world, in the modern context it became a prison uniform, that deny every hint on individuality and sexuality of a person. On the one hand this trip helped her to renew the lost connection with the culture of east, and from the other hand it destroyed the illusion of Islamic well-being. It was the main inspiration , it was the possibility to express her feelings. (Wallach,2001)
The works of the artist touch upon very important political and social aspects about Iranian society. She stated that she was the artist, not the active worker. (Wallach,2001)
Trip to Iran identify the character of her works. In such works as “ Unveiling”(1993), “Women of Allah” (1994-1997) she emphasizes her attitude and entrancement to Middle East, at the same time she does not hide her detachment. The main hero on black and white photos is Shirin Neshat, she is in the yashmak, her face, feet and hands are opened, her body is covered with writing of militarist poetry and holy Koran. The only accessory in her works is a gun. The black and white create an illusion of documentary of military chronic. The effect of catharsis was reached with the help of experiment, she turned to her feelings and emotional experience that was split between hatred and love, feminity and courage.
The most paradoxical thing is only women from Iran can understand her works, however the works are forbidden in her native country. (Wallach,2001)
Shirin Neshat decided to create movies. Three movies “Turbulent” (1998), “Rapture” (1999) and “ Fervor” (2000) were focused on contrasting of man and woman role in Islamic society.
The movie “Turbulent” gave a famous to the artist and the First International Awards. The main idea of the movie is that women in Iran are not able to record and to perform music. In this movie the woman breaks all the rules, at first she visited a theatre, though she can not do it, then she sings a song ,the song is without words. The main character is lonely, the society will not approve her actions, however it is demonstration of freedom. This movie shows that women can me unpredictable and rebellious in the society, where men live according to the traditions.
Rapture faces off a hundred men inside an old fort(culture) and a hundred women in chadors outside in the desert, showing male and female in stark separation again,on screens on opposite sides of a room. At the first the men, all on white shirts and dark pants, are at play. They circle and chant; they are active, while the woman seem dances on a drum, her bare feet seen in close-up; others hike up their black robes, push a small wooden boat into the water and put out sea. (Camhi,2000)
Fervor probes the sensual cost of repression to both sexes on separate side-by-side screens, with a spare esthetic; a woman in chador and a man are walking separate paths, which cross like lines on a Minimalist canvas near the beginning of the film. They traverse receding alley ways and disappear around the corner at the end-perhaps the same corner, probably not. In between, they sit on separate sides in a hall, the women`s side black with chadors, the men`s variegated in shades of gray and white. A charismatic itinerant preacher is performing a moral tale about sexual transgression. The woman flees. Emotions are as divided as public lives for both sexes.
Neshat works her effects in a landscape of stone and sand, of primitive villages, courtyards and protected interiors. Her landscapes are at once characteristic and symbolic of the weight of a culture lost and remembered. (Camhi,2000)
Neshat`s emergence as a maker of a film and video installations coincided with the flowering of Iranian fil in 1990s. She has an enormous regard to Abbas Kiarostami and other directors who are compelled to create their effects out of cramped means, since the government monopolizes film stock and sets censorship rules. Instead of being hampered by the control, Kiarostami uses the limitations as an opportunity to make films that, he says, build gently and "disturb you afterwards ... keep you preoccupied for weeks."' To achieve her own stringent spell, Neshat sets limits for herself. Since she conceives the films as a visual artist, her images are disciplined and consistently compelling. The films that succeed do so not only because of the clarity of their concept but because s:-ae distills images for esthetic resonance. There is no dialogue to carry the scenes, and every frame counts. She treats the chador like sculpture, a black mound against the sand, a congregation of humped forms a pattern, a background against which the white of a hand is newly seen as intimate and unpredictable. (Camhi,2000)
Sometimes now, an Iranian film will restate her images-the multiple women in chadors on bicycles in Marziyeh Meshkini's The Day I Became a Woman (2000) recall the multiple women in chadors dancing in Neshat's Rapture. In both cases, Neshat believes, the intent is the same, to "deconstruct the subject by taking it into a new context, out of the purely political and into the philosophical and poetic. "Neshat's relationship to her subject matter is both complicated and enriched by the fact of her exile. Exile is a philosophical and emotional state. It has little to do with the length of time one has been away from home. The loss is invariably lifelong. (Danto,1999)
Exile as a Language
Exile is one of the overwhelming facts of the 20th century. In finding a form for the divided inner life of exile, Neshat has created a language that millions can comprehend. Edward Said describes the state this way:
Most people are principally aware of one culture, one setting, one home; exiles are aware of at least two, and this plurality of vision gives rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions, an awareness that-to borrow a phrase from music-is contrapuntal.
For an exile, habits of life, expression, or activity in the new environment inevitably occur against the memory of these things in another environment. Thus both the new and the old environments are vivid, actual, occurring together contrapuntally. (Danto,1999)
The shuttling glance and divided self of exile are the language of Neshat's work. However, she has visited exile head-on as subject matter only once, in the film installation Soliloquy (1999), introduced at the last Carnegie International. Soliloquy is her most problematic work, in part because it tries to do so many things at once that it clouds her esthetic, which is best when most crystalline. The film turns out, however, to have been a petri dish that incubated the ideas she has developed in her newest work. (Camhi,2000)
During most of the 1980s, Neshat was codirector, with Kyong Park, of the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York. Through exhibitions such as "Warchitecture," photographs of war-damaged buildings in Sarajevo, or "Queer Space," which investigated how gender defines space (and vice versa), she assimilated the social meanings of physical space that have permeated all her films. In Soliloquy, she beats the message like a drum: superhighways and modernist buildings signify the West, courtyards and minarets, Islam.
Soliloquy is one of her few experiments with color. (She had earlier shot Shadow under the Web in color; in that 1997 work, Neshat, dressed in a chador, runs through a variety of architectural spaces.) Soliloquy is the first film in which she attempts to integrate urgent autobiographical material. Her father had recently died in Iran, and her bewildered fury at the rupture he forced by sending her to America in the first place surfaced once again. Worse, her nephew, Iman, died of cancer in Iran at the age of 17, and she had been unable to visit him. Soliloquy takes on all of it: mourning, loss, rage, homesickness, rootlessness, Christianity, Islam, the isolation of individualism and the constraints of community.
In Soliloquy, as in her other film installations, Neshat told two sides of her story on facing screens. The artist herself, in a chador, is seen on both screens, the split a metaphor for her conflicted inner life. She is as isolated in the ancient landscape as on modern highways. In her three new films, all made in 2001, she has separated out some of the tangled themes she broached in Soliloquy: death, mourning and ritual (Passage); isolation and extremity (Possessed); private and public identities (Pulse). (Danto,1999)
Passage germinated from Neshat's readings in apocalyptic texts after she was invited to participate in the "Apocalypse" exhibition (held in the fall of 2000) at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, an invitation which she later declined. She was steeped in those impressions last year when she watched on television the clashes between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli soldiers, and was transfixed by the sight of Palestinian bodies held aloft in funeral processions.
Around this time, Philip Glass approached her about making a film for which he would write the music, and she created the 11 %-minute Passage for him.' Shooting near the town of Essaouira, Morocco, where the shore and the desert have in the past served her for their similarities to Iran, she sublimated rage in a bleak, dazzling epic of death and rebirth.
The film, in color, opens with a view from above of waves breaking on a beach; a, distant mountain rises out of the mist. As the camera moves closer, a dark shape on the sand resolves into a huddle of men dressed in black; a wave bursts on a long note of music. The men stretch into a column and advance. Suddenly the camera is at ground level, panning over a dun spread of stone to another indistinguishable black mass against a mountain and blue sky. .
As the men walk along the water, they hold aloft a body wrapped in white, which reprises the whitecaps on the slate sea. The chords advance with melodramatic vehemence, underlining significance when the action alone would suffice. Then the camera moves over stony ground to where the black mass throbs. A new melody enters as a child's hands, seen in close-up, push aside stones. A seagull soars. (Danto,1999)
The men turn up a path, and we see the line of them in profile. The advancing camera discloses that the black mass consists of women in chadors, bobbing in unruly rhythms. The men cross the dunes; afternoon light throws long shadows onto the scrub. The women claw at the earth. The music swells with urgency, then softens as the child's hand arrange stones in a circle. The men approach, bisecting the screen from the top, and for the first time we clearly see the shrouded body they carry. (Danto,1999)
The child lays twigs inside the stone circle she has made, as if to build a fire. Against the desert, the circle of women and the vector of men form an astonishing geometry. The moment the men lay the body on the ground, smoke flares, as if from the child's pile of twigs. The child turns to look, a dab of green dress and red leggings against the desert and the black. The women work frantically now, as the grave becomes a black void expelling dust. The fire encircles men and women; the child is outside the circle, watching. Smoke rises. A trumpet sounds alone, climbing to a high B-flat. Fade out. (Danto,1999)
Neshat has translated the brutality of the Israeli-Palestinian television images into cathartic, purifying ceremony. (Danto,1999)
She has blurred specificity and social commentary into charged generalities. The large screen supports the implications of vast space, and the ritual actions seem to pull the audience into a direct experience. Farzaneh Milani calls Neshat's cosmos "the space in-between. The viewer is always placed in the interval between the particular and the universal."
The music is surging and theatrical. Glass saw the film as "dramatic, ritualizing pageantry.'" The score italicizes, perhaps unnecessarily, the big-screen scenery and the suspenseful rhythms of the shots that alternate between the women at the grave, the men arriving with the body, and the child. What gives the film its emotional vigor, however, is the delicacy of Neshat's touch. (Schorr,1999)
Just before he died in 1985, Italo Calvino prepared a series of lectures he never delivered, on the literary qualities he would like to see carried into the next millennium. He could have been talking about Neshat, whose work embodies the "lightness," as well as the "economy, rhythm, and hard logic" he valued. He defined "lightness" as "luminous tracings that are placed in the foreground and set in contrast to dark catastrophe." To illustrate, he chose the moment when Perseus makes a bed of leaves on which to set down Medusa's head, "so monstrous and terrifying yet at the same time somehow fragile and perishable. And everywhere the head touches, marine plants turn to coral and the nymphs rush to bring twigs and seaweed to the head so they can adorn theirs with coral." Such lightness, he went on, "can leap over a grave," while "what many consider to be the vitality of the times-noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring-belongs to the realm of death, like a cemetery for rusty old cars. With such imagery as a child's hands arranging twigs or the froth on a wave, Neshat dissolves the severity that underlies all her work. She vaporizes the stereotype of the chador by suggesting the infinite variety of personal experiences and universal issues that it veils.
In Passage, the chador functions mostly as an unspecific, timeless costume which separates the circle of women from the advancing trajectory of men. There is the poetic implication that out of their encounter with death could come the child who embodies future possibility. Neshat is constantly adjusting her reconstruction of the chador's opposite, incendiary meanings in East and West. Those dissonances, however, continue to be as essential to the resonance of the work as the crinkle of a candy wrapper or the clearing of a throat is to «John Cage Silence performance. (Schorr,1999)
With Possessed, Neshat returns to the theme of exile and how it infects public space. Or at least that is one reading of the 9 -minute black-and- white film, in which for the first time Neshat offers an individualized character with a vivid internal life. The film opens with a single widescreen shot of a woman's face in three-quarter profile against an empty sky, strands of dark hair ruffled by the breeze. The woman is perhaps in her 30s. Her head is uncovered; she is wearing a dirty caftan instead of a chador. She is muttering to herself, but Deyhim's score drowns her out with its keening urgency. She is seen full face and then from the other side as the camera circles her. A leaf brushes her face, the camera travels vertiginously, and her face is lost in shadow. It is an electrifying moment. The screen goes briefly blank, then the camera rediscovers her talking at a wall. (Schorr,1999)
As the music ratchets Up in intensity, the woman stumbles into an alley and edges into a town square where children play, men drink tea, women in chadors go about their business (in this film, the portentous black garment is relegated to a bit part). Cellos descend into a minor key and instruments screech distress as she mounts stone stairs and by her aberrant behavior draws the attention of the crowd. The townspeople are all around her, the men closest. She screams. Some in the crowd threaten her, some move in to protect her. A fight ensues, and the music intensifies. As the crowd wrangles and shoves, the woman forces her unheeding way through the faces and chadors and disappears off the bottom of the screen. In the end we see her full-screen again, lost in her solitary reality. The music subsides as she disappears through a doorway and down an alley Is she someone driven mad by her situation, or by the political torture that has been as prevalent in the Iran of the clerics as under the shah? Is she a gypsy, singing “to register her presence in people’s ears,” as in a poem by the Persian poet Simin Behbahani? Is she a woman who felt imprisoned in her chador? Is she an artist as well as an exile, capable of churning the smooth surface of everyday assumptions? (Schorr,1999)
This is a film in which inner life is central to the action; the events unfold from the woman’s point of view, the music mirroring her internal discord. This is the closest Neshat has yet come to feature filmmaking. The gifted actress Shohreh Aghdashloo plays the woman. Neshat is apparently good with actors: Aghdashloo says that her direction gave her space in which to improvise. The crowd includes compelling characterizations as well, though on first viewing one is too focused on Aghdashloo to notice. (Danto,1999)
The issue of narrative is a complex one. What is the place of narrative in a film by a visual artist? Bruce Nauman suggested one answer in his Clown Torture by presenting episodes without beginning or end, only a middle: a clown “takes a shit,” screams under torture, is plagued by a falling water bucket. Bill Viola throws it upon the audience to complete the loaded narrative in The Nantes Triptych, in which a woman gives birth sitting between her husband’s legs on one screen, and an old woman dies, tended periodically by the hand of an unseen intimate, on another (in the middle, a body floats underwater, occasionally emitting bubbles). Neshat’s inclination is to continue on that path, but in the manner of Greek tragedy, with themes that are elemental, have significance in all cultures and are timeless, however they clothe themselves. In Possessed, however, she enters the realm of individual character, interiority and a potentially novelistic point of view. The woman on screen is more than a metaphor. Her thought processes are visible. ( Jones,1999)
In earlier versions of Possessed, Neshat used a split screen in the portions in which the woman interacted with the crowd. The crowd appeared almost as a character. This made for a more pronounced dialogue between crowd and woman, public and private space, external and internal chaos, society and outsider. It was shattering in that form, with music that built in urgency instead of starting from urgency and escalating. Together, Neshat and Deyhim took an enormous leap with the final version, away from Neshat’s familiar turf. It signals her intention to further explore the traditional terrain of cinema, and to expose the dramatic intensity of her vision, which she has in the past muted in lyricism and a degree of abstraction. (Jones,1999)
In Neshat’s characteristic dialectic the originality of her juxtapositions and the aptness of her metaphors precluded associations with other filmmakers and other filmic traditions. She was a visual artist taking chances with a different medium, but on her terms. The final cut of Possessed invites comparison to the Italian Neorealism of the 1940s and the French NewWave of the 1950s. On those terms, Neshat is a neophyte, sometimes overplaying her hand, without the assurance that permitted the subtlety of her earlier films. However, reworking her own familiar ground is hardly the answer, either. Clearly this is a moment of transition, and she is confronting it. ( Jones,1999)
In Pulse, which also stars Aghdashloo, Neshat goes back to aspects of her earlier practice; the film is shot in a single 7 -minute take in black and white. It recasts Turbulent’s concerns with the relationship between men and women. Pulse begins with two repetitive electronic notes. The camera is at such a distance from the subject that it is difficult to see much in the darkness, except for a high, grated window. A man’s voice begins to sing as the camera intrudes slowly into a private chamber ,a lamp, then an area of black that is hair, not a scarf. She is singing to the radio. She bends her head, and the whole screen is black except for the gleam of her hair. Then the camera just as slowly pulls back. The images are theatrically lit and atmospheric, the esthetic more stark and gothic than we expect from Neshat—more Orson Welles than Hitchcock. The mood skirts dangerously close to bathos.
The effect is sufficiently meditative to keep audiences in their places long after the final electronic peal. In fact, there has been a metaphysical subtext to Neshat’s work since Turbulent that has not often been commented upon. In that film, as here, the songs are by Rumi. The yearning voiced is religious as well as romantic. The dialogue is between the medieval mysticism that is the state religion of the new Iran, and its actual, more clouded meaning in the world of today. Neshat addresses the content of the religious experience as well as the political uses to which its expression has been put. American audiences may not recognize the song the woman sings with the radio as a religious love song, but an Iranian audience certainly would. ( Jones,1999)
Neshat leaves it that way. Her strategy is to translate the spiritual and the political into the metaphoric. The audience enters at whatever level it can. Pulse is a contrapuntal duet of presence with absence in the manner of Said’s definition of exile. It is love song and hymn, personal and political, interior and exterior, rooted in the history of Iran and in Neshat’s own artistic practice as a filmmaker. ( Jones,1999)
For the past three decades and more, the art world’s standard answer to countering the image blitz has been to succumb to it, to play the game of appropriation and simulacra. Neshat returns to more primal and powerful means. At a moment when the received wisdom is that there is no new image under the sun, she is inventing memorable images that render the alien intimate and the familiar mysterious. In reassessing the idioms of both art and film, she bends them to her own ends.( Jones,1999)
Let us consider another feministic artist, Mona Hatoum. She is post-modern artist. Mona Hatoum was born in Palestina, she moved to London to get the education. Her biography and origin had a great influence on her works. Her family did not support her design to be an artist. Because of Civil War she was not able to come back home for a long time.
Mona Hatoum famously dislikes interviews, and who can blame her? The history of such exchanges is littered with fraught confessions and skewed portrayals, and she is right to be cautious. In any case, the key nuts and bolts of Hatoum’s life and work are already known to most art aficionados: the Palestinian heritage, growing up in Beirut, the visit to London and then the inability to return home as Lebanon imploded into civil war; the early years of political activism and performance art, and then the later work, including Turner Prize nomination and the more sensationalist of her works; everyone recalls Corps Étranger, for instance. Judging Hatoum and her work by such a string of markers is a pointless exercise. Intriguingly complex, she is also frank and direct in her work, and honest and relaxed .
“I come from a family of academics, and art was of no interest to anyone at home,” she recalls of her childhood. “It wasn’t even on the curriculum at school, so I very much had to forge my own way.” She particularly remembers finding opportunities to draw in her poetry books, sketches facing the text, and in biology class, creating images of amoebas and other organisms. But early hopes of an artistic career were seemingly stifled. “I sat down with my father, when I was 16 or so, to discuss what I wanted to do. I said that I really wanted to study art, and he exclaimed, ‘No way!’ It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate art, he was just worried about how I could support myself through it.”
State of Limbo
Hatoum later found her school notebooks, touchingly kept by her father in an old filing cabinet and only discovered after he had passed away. Her family was unusual in the sense that there was not the conventional pressure from her parents for her and her two sisters to get married – “Which was good, because for me at that time, marriage was definitely not on the agenda!” Hatoum recalls, with some irony (she has now been married to husband Gerry Collins for 14 years). After taking a graphic design course and then working in an advertising agency to get some money together, she left for London on a short visit, fully intending to return to Beirut afterwards to start her undergraduate studies. But whilst she was in the British capital, the political situation in Lebanon suddenly deteriorated; fighting broke out, and so Hatoum took the decision to stay in Britain until things calmed down at home. They did not, of course. At least, not for 15 years. Stranded in London, Hatoum started to make sense of the situation and decided to take a foundation course at the Byam School of Art. At the end of that year, and with no sign that the situation in Lebanon was improving, she enrolled for another three-year course at the Byam and then moved to the Slade School of Fine Art for two years of postgraduate studies. (Hatoum,1997)
Whilst at the Byam, Hatoum had her first exposure to painting;
“For me, at that time, painting was what art was all about,” she recalls. “I tried my hand at everything – one term I’d be trying some figurative stuff, the next I was an Abstract Expressionist. I was constantly experimenting.” But two particular artistic movements soon struck a chord with the rapidly developing artist: Minimalism and Conceptual art, which have both remained with her ever since. “What I like about Minimalism in particular is the flushing out of all the unnecessary ‘noise’,” she explains, “the idea of stripping things down to their real essence.” Faced with the doctrinal and practical clarity of the Minimalist approach, painting and other forms of representational art soon lost their appeal to Hatoum; “I got frustrated with them. I was more interested in ideas of change and movement, and traditional art forms were simply not the right medium for these.” In particular, she found herself increasingly drawn to materials that enabled her to work three-dimensionally, using plastic and mirrors to make cuboid shapes, for example, and at the Slade was exposed for the first time to video and performance art. (Hatoum,1997)
Although her artistic knowledge and experience were by now developing rapidly, life was not so easy for Hatoum socially; “It was hard then, I was worried constantly about my family in Lebanon. I didn’t really have a support system in London in those days. I met people at school but they were often unaware of my situation, or indeed of the Middle Eastern predicament generally.” It is little surprise, therefore, that at about this time she became involved in political activism and, increasingly, performance art. Having left art school, and with no studio and little money for materials, Hatoum saw distinct advantages in venue-based performance art – little or no overheads, for a start. Yet as an art form, it also had an ephemeral quality that she relished; “It was very much about the here and now, very impulsive and improvised. Nothing stayed behind – except perhaps a photo or two – and I really liked that, mainly because I was so critical of my own work that I couldn’t live with it.” She adds that she also thrived on the edginess of performance art, its critique of the art world and of commodification in general. (Hatoum,1997)
Particularly notable in her oeuvre of that period is Live Work for the Black Room
(1981). The performance takes place in darkness, in a room where all the surfaces are painted black. The first few minutes of action are unseen by the viewers, who can only hear Hatoum as she falls repeatedly on the floor and then draws an outline of her prostrate body in white chalk.
After each outline is drawn, she places a nightlight in its centre; slowly, as more candles are lit, the nature of the work becomes apparent: a vast spaghetti of chalk lines, covering the floor and increasingly dwarfing – and ensnaring – the solitary human form that they represent.
Hatoum undertook over 35 performances between 1980 and 1988. At the same time she was also producing video work, decidedly in its infancy then as a genre; “Both performance and video art were very marginal at that time,” she explains, “we certainly didn’t view video as a commodity, but the great advantage it did have was that it was possible to send it out to various exhibitions and reach a wider audience than was ever possible with performance.” Hatoum brought her skill with both forms to bear in works such as So Much I Want to Say(1983). Her first video work, it comprises a series of canned images showing her being gagged by an unseen man and struggling to speak. These are transmitted live between Vancouver, where the action is taking place, and Vienna, where an audience watches on a screen and receives continuous sound via a telephone line. During the late 1980s Hatoum became less politically driven – “I realised that activism was not really for me, I used to sometimes feel physically sick after being at a demo” – and less interested in performance and video art. Instead, she found herself more preoccupied with working with materials and, after securing a fellowship at Cardiff Institute of Higher Education in 1989, enjoyed the facilities and time to experiment further. She recalls how “this was a very liberating time for me. I was away from my peers in London and not under the pressure to perform, as it were. I had the time and space to do my own thing.” The result was a move towards installation art and expressions within which the role of the viewer and spectator were increasingly important. Interactivity with the audience – but with the artist absent rather than ‘performing’ – became central. The decade culminated in a work in which the currents Hatoum sought to establish between viewer, work and unseen artist came alive, literally, with The Light at the End(1989), featuring exposed electric heating bars mounted on a gate-like structure resembling a grill.The 1990s saw Hatoum produce some of her trademark installation pieces, works that have come to define her as one of the most innovative and insightful artists of her time. Her fascination with the human form – she has used the body, hair, nails and body fluids in her work for over two decades now – came to the fore most famously via her remarkable endoscopic journeys, (1996). These seminal works presented the internal human form as a sort of science fiction creation, transforming it into something unworldly and confrontationally abstract. Meanwhile, Hatoum took routine household objects, furniture and utensils and stripped them of their everyday meaning.
The striking results challenged perceptions of what surrounds us in the domestic context and sought to reincarnate these seemingly mundane and innocent items as disconcerting and potentially hostile. Incommunicado(1993), for example, presented a baby’s cot as a prison-like cage with ‘cheese wire’ stretched across the base; (Hatoum,1997)
It was during this period that Hatoum consolidated her place on the international stage, with nomination for the Turner Prize (1995) and participation at her first Venice Biennale (1995). Her work has since continued to engage and astound, its recurring themes and circularity a kinetic confirmation of her consistent outlook, but in themselves so constantly evolving that new forms and expressions abound. Morphed kitchen objects surface in works such as Grater Divide(2002), whilst Cage-à-Deux (2002) presented an oversized birdcage large enough for human occupation and fraught with danger and tension. Unhomely, a landmark show in the vast Osram light bulb factory space in Berlin in 2008 (and now the main space for Galerie Max Hetzler), confirmed Hatoum’s trademark coupling of the familiar and the strange, the conscious and the unconscious, but in a way that opened up new vistas: Nature Morte aux Grenades (2006–7) and Undercurrent (red) (2008) particularly stand out as works of great power and originality.
Earlier this year Hatoum returned to Venice for her third Biennale there, with a solo show entitled Interior Landscape. Exhibited in the stunning palazzo of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia, some of the smaller works were sensitively integrated with the outstanding historical artefacts on permanent display there. The show’s undoubted highlights were Impenetrable (2009) and Interior Landscape (2009), surely two of Hatoum’s most epic works to date. Other pieces were redolent with recurring themes – her fascination with human hair, for example. Hair is a challenging medium for any artist, not least as it arouses often conflicting responses to do with sensuality and repulsion. Hatoum’s approach is, as ever, highly individual; she has both woven her own hair on a diminutive loom and rolled it into tiny balls to be scattered like mini tumbleweeds, as was the case in Venice (where Hair Necklace , an earlier work, was also displayed). The deeply personal nature of hair serves as a potent investorial emblem of Hatoum’s craft. Hatoum regards Interior Landscapeas her most successful show to date, or at least the one with which she is most satisfied. More tellingly, she feels that it was the result of a process of quiet consideration and contemplation, something only made possible by the tranquil and concentrated time she gets when she is in Berlin, where she has been spending half of her time since 2003; “I make homes wherever I am, but my life [in Berlin] is so much more balanced than it is in London these days. Being more relaxed, and having more time for reflection, has brought about a change in my work. Berlin has done that.” (Hatoum,1997)
The results of this change are clear to see. Hatoum’s works constituted the recent inaugural show at the Rennie Collection in Vancouver, Canada, and a new project at the Musée de l’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne in France is imminent. This year’s schedule includes a residency culminating in a solo exhibition at the Beirut Art Centre, marking a timely return to Lebanon. “I’m very excited about spending time and producing work there. The space is beautiful and it’s a non-commercial venue,” she explains. “Residencies are always so inspiring, the feeling of constant discovery is a real stimulus for me.” This commitment to continuing the creative journey with a totally open eye, heart and mind clearly defines Hatoum, shaping the artistic twists and turns of this most enigmatic of Contemporary artists. (Hatoum,1997)
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