© The Artist


Mona Hatoum (1952 – )


67 X 112 X 1.5 CM
Accession number


This work was made as part of a series of carpets that Mona Hatoum produced for the Istanbul Biennial of 1995. Upon first sight, it could have been picked up from the city’s Grand Bazaar, but is in fact made from thousands of upturned nickel-plated brass pins glued to a canvas, with a compass placed at its centre to allow orientation towards Mecca. Guy Brett has described how the work should not be seen merely as an ironic satire on religiosity but also as ‘a poetic, imagi¬nation-stretching invention, that re-circles on itself to evoke the cosmic wonder of a starry sky.’[1] The work feeds into a lineage of radical floor-based activities including those of Jackson Pollock, Carl Andre and Richard Long, as well as Arte Povera artists such as Jannis Kounellis and Piero Manzoni. Hatoum adds her own voice, although the focus of her dialogue is not so much with these male trailblazers as between the materials that she selects and their impact on the viewer’s perceptions and emotions.

Hatoum was born in Lebanon to Palestinian parents. She attended Beirut University, studying graphic design, before coming to England in 1975 just as war broke out in her homeland. Forced into exile she enrolled at Byam Shaw School of Art before continuing at the Slade. In a practice that incorporates installation, sculpture, performance, pho¬tography and film and video, her work has, from the beginning, been focused on the body as the ‘axis of our perceptions’ – a site of activism, struggle and persecution.[2] In 1985, she laced up a pair of shiny Doc Martens boots and strode through the streets of Brixton, an area under¬going severe race riots at the time. The boots evoke both vulnerability and authority; they could belong to a skinhead or a policeman. They are powerless yet hauntingly animated. The work combines humour with a nuanced understanding of an object’s symbolic qualities and a genuine engagement with the urgency of place.

Whilst in Hatoum’s performances her own body is the principle stage upon which meaning is fought out, in her installations and sculpture the key relationship is between object, viewer and space. Her deliber¬ate forms are beautiful but loaded, revealing complexities and contra¬dictions. A tension exists between, on the one hand, a desire for the formal harmony of abstract forms and aesthetic models, and, on the other, a deep suspicion of their potentially de-humanising qualities. The sculptures are imbued not only with the phenomenological language of Minimalism, but also a struggle for political voice in a complex contemporary world. Prayer Mat asks us to consider our structures of belief and the means by which we go about private moments of spiritual engagement. It manages to be serious with a light touch; at once sensi¬tive to the individual and also conscious of the systems within which individuals operate.


[1]. Guy Brett, ‘Survey’, in Michael Archer, Guy Brett and Catherine de Zegher, Mona Hatoum (London: Phaidon, 1997), 77.
[2]. Hatoum in conversation with Michael Archer, in Mona Hatoum (1997), 8.

Published in Passports British Council Collection, British Council, London 2009