Still on the artist covered in blood, holding a knife aloft, and wearing a black face covering, through which one eye can be seen.
Mona Hatoum, Variation on Discord and Divisions, 1984. Documentation of performance at Western Front, Vancouver
. Color video with sound
27 minutes, 45 seconds
© Mona Hatoum. Courtesy Kunstmuseum St. Gallen Credit: Stefan Rohner

In Roadworks (1985), Mona Hatoum walks barefoot through the streets of Brixton dragging a large pair of Dr. Martens boots (the same brand previously favored by the British police) attached to her ankles by their laces. The short video is edited from documentation of the artist’s hour-long performance of the same title. The Negotiating Table (1983) is a direct response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Here, the artist lies motionless on a table. Her body is bloodstained, entirely wrapped in plastic; her head is covered in surgical gauze. Across the gallery, in Variation on Discord and Divisions (1984), exile, war, oppression, and the sharp criticism thereof all become one. The video shows Hatoum, dressed in all black and wearing a stocking over her head, ripping out raw kidneys from under her clothes, cutting them up, putting them on plates, and serving them to the audience. The three videos compile a disturbing yet powerful vignette of intense performances realized throughout the 1980s, and mark Hatoum’s return to the MCA after 25 years.

Breaking all sorts of boundaries—personal, social, political, geographical—Hatoum is unapologetic about taking a strong stance. Having grown up in Beirut, she became an exile to London in 1975 when war broke out in Lebanon. Her work, reflecting her experience of cultural displacement, is a testament to that. She speaks of global marginalized communities, identity, intimacy, race, power, conflict, and unrest. 

Mona Hatoum, Changing Parts, 1984, black-and-white video with sound, 24 minutes, A Western Front Video Production, Vancouver
© Mona Hatoum. Courtesy the artist
Credit: Brigitte Rodoreda

Her exhibition, “Early Works,” featuring six documented performances and video works from that formative stage of Hatoum’s career, continues to two dark galleries—you might need a minute for your eyes to adjust. In So Much I Want to Say (1983) Hatoum keeps repeating those six words while male hands gag her mouth—a literal and metaphorical barrier between the artist and the world. Efforts to be seen, heard, or understood seem futile. “So much I want to say, so much I want to say, so much I want to say.” Hearing the phrase over and over again while you watch her struggle to get the words out—that violent silencing—suggests that women’s bodies and minds have always been the primary battleground of gender oppression. Which sadly is as relevant today as ever. 

“Mona Hatoum: Early Works”
Through 11/26: Tue 10 AM-9 PM, Wed-Sun 10 AM-5 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago, admission and visitor information at

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