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Mona Hatoum: The Negotiating Table

June 16, 2016


Artist Mona Hatoum was born in Beirut to Palestinian parents. In 1975 she became an exile in Britain when, during a short visit to London, war broke out in Lebanon. She studied art in London’s Byam Shaw (1975-9) and The Slade (1979-81) where her experience of cultural displacement, as a woman and an Arab national, had a huge influence.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, Mona responded with a performance piece titled The Negotiating Table. This is how she described it:

“The room is dark, lit only by a light bulb over a table on which the artist lies motionless. Empty chairs surround the table. Her body is bloodstained, covered with entrails, wrapped in plastic, and her head is firmly covered in surgical gauze. On the soundtrack news reports about civil war and speeches of Western leaders talking about peace can be heard.”

Mona Hatoum, The Negotiating Table

It was John Pilger’s book Freedom Next Time (Bantam Press, 2006) that got me interested. A quick excerpt:

“When I saw [The Negotiating Table] twenty years later, I was reminded that the injustice done in her country was like a spectre: unmoving and watchful, regardless of the manipulations and deceit of the oppressors and their backers.

“The droning, insincere, incessant voices of Western broadcasters and politicians, one merging with the other, clip upon clip, produced an unforgettable heightened reality. Art succeeded where journalism had failed.”

This video shows a few seconds of the performance art (link skips to the 1:24 mark). It won’t do it justice, but gives a glimpse.

If you’re in London before August 21st head to the Tate Modern for an exhibition of Mona Hatoum’s 35-year body of work.

And read Freedom Next Time (Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk). It’s sickening what our governments do in our name. The chapter on Palestine is particularly heart-wrenching (not to downplay the other crimes that are covered).

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