In 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon – a war that would last until 1990. There was an exodus of almost 1 million people. Mona Hatoum was one of them. When war broke out, Hatoum was visiting London and decided to stay there. She trained at the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art (1975-81). Despite finding London rather grey and lonely, Hatoum enjoyed the freedom she experienced there as a woman and an artist.
This was not Hatoum’s first experience of dislocation and displaced identity. In 1948, her parents left their home in Haifa (formerly northern Palestine). More than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes during the Palestine War. The causes for this mass displacement remain a matter of great controversy.
Hatoum’s parents were part of the 100,000 Palestinian refugees who settled in Lebanon. They were never able to obtain Lebanese identity cards – a move to discourage integration. Despite being born in Beirut in 1952, Hatoum was also ineligible for an identity card.
Dislocation thus marked Hatoum’s childhood and early adult life. This manifests itself in Hatoum’s work, such as ‘Measures of Distance’ (1988). This video piece explores Hatoum's displaced identity and relationship with her family. It is a work of great emotional intensity.
Over time, Hatoum's work became more abstract and less politically direct. She wanted to ask questions of her audiences and turned her focus to installations. ‘Grater Divide’ (2002) and ‘Hot Spot III’ (2009) are two renowned examples.
Hatoum’s work has global significance and impact on both people and art itself. She has had solo exhibitions across the world, from Paris to New York. In 2019, Hatoum won the Praemium Imperiale, recognising her lifetime achievement in sculpture. Hatoum is a testament to the global influence that refugee artists can have.
Esther is a second year History student at Oxford University. She is working with us on our Refugee Stories Project as part of the Oxford University Micro Internship programme.