Mona Hatoum


Measures of Distance 1988

“Measures of Distance is a video work comprising several layered elements. Letters written by Hatoum’s mother in Beirut to her daughter in London appear as Arabic text moving over the screen and are read aloud in English by Hatoum. The background images are slides of Hatoum’s mother in the shower, taken by the artist during a visit to Lebanon. Taped conversations in Arabic between mother and daughter, in which her mother speaks openly about her feelings, her sexuality and her husband’s objections to Hatoum’s intimate observation of her mother’s naked body are intercut with Hatoum’s voice in English reading the letters.

Hatoum has said:

Although the main thing that comes across is a very close and emotional relationship between mother and daughter, it also speaks of exile, displacement, disorientation and a tremendous sense of loss as a result of the separation caused by war. In this work I was also trying to go against the fixed identity that is usually implied in the stereotype of Arab woman as passive, mother as non-sexual being the work is constructed visually in such a way that every frame speaks of literal closeness and implied distance.
(Quoted in Mona Hatoum 1997, p.140).”

I found some interesting links in the process of my project to Measures of Distance by Mona Hatoum. In my piece, I feel that I felt that same important emotional connection with my mother was an important part of making my piece as at first, my mum was a bit wary of having a recording of her voice be a part of my piece. And the recordings ended up being inadvertently a conversation not just between my mother and me, but also my younger sisters and my mother.

I also found a link in the disparity of language, where Hatoum reads her mothers letters written in Arabic in English.  My mother similarly engages in act of translation, perhaps for the sake of the audience (in the case of the mother the audience being my younger sisters) or perhaps because of the different cultural upbringing, where my mother seems to have become more comfortable in her French storytelling having grown up with a French education.

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