Mona Hatoum b. 1952
So Much I Want to Say (1983)
The video So Much I Want to Say consists of a series of still images, changing every eight seconds, which show the artist's face in close-up with a pair of male hands gagging her mouth and preventing her from speaking. Meanwhile her voice on the sound-track repeats over and over the words of the title. This is one of Hatoum's earliest video works and is based on material from a live performance. During a tour of Canada in 1983 she participated in a slowscan video exchange between Vienna and Vancouver entitled Wiencouver IV. Slowscan satellite transmits an image every eight seconds, with continuous sound via telephone lines. Hatoum's contribution, transmitted live from Vancouver, was also titled So Much I Want to Say. The video work uses footage from the live transmission. It was made at the Western Front Art Centre and is a Western Front Production.

Hatoum grew up in Beirut, but became an exile during a visit to London in 1975 when war broke out in Lebanon. She attended art schools in London (Byam Shaw 1975-9 and Slade 1979-81), where she began to make work about her experience of cultural displacement. She has said: 'my work is about my experience of living in the West as a person from the Third World, about being an outsider, about occupying a marginal position, being excluded, being defined as "Other" or as one of "Them"' (quoted in Mona Hatoum, London 1997, p.127). Her early performance works focused with great intensity on her body, which she used as a metaphor for oppression, often separated from the audience by some form of barrier, membrane, cage, cell, wall, hood or veil.

In So Much I Want to Say the male hands, which gag Hatoum's mouth, form a physical and visual barrier between the artist and her audience, which seems on one level to prevent her from being seen, heard or understood. They provide a symbol for a cultural elite which stifles the voice of society's dispossessed, those who are alienated through their race, nationality and gender. By presenting images where she appears to be silenced, Hatoum exposes the predicament of political minorities who are silenced or ignored. Her ineffectual struggle to pluck the hands from her face contrasts with the persistent repetition of her voice on the sound-track, demonstrating that it is through her artwork that she has found a channel for her political ideas.

Further reading:
Mona Hatoum, exhibition catalogue, Arnolfini, Bristol 1993, pp.8-9, 16, reproduced p.5
Michael Archer, Guy Brett, Catherine de Zegher, Mona Hatoum, Mona Hatoum, London 1997, pp.42-3, reproduced p.42

Elizabeth Manchester
February 2000