We had a delight speaking with artist Mona Hatoum abut her recent collaboration with ILLY.

Who is Mona Hatoum? What is your aspiration in life and what kind of message do you want to spread? Can you tell us a bit about your way of working?

I am a visual artist. I have worked in a diverse range of media starting with performance, video and photography in the early days and later working in installation, sculpture and works on paper.

I was born in Beirut into a Palestinian family. In 1975 while I was on a short visit to London – which was my first trip to Europe – the Lebanese Civil War broke out and I got stranded in London. I decided to join art school (which had been my ambition since I was a kid) and 6 years later, after finishing my studies I ended up staying in London where I am still living to this day. 

I don’t have a defined or single way of working. I have always kept an experimental attitude and I like to engage in different modes of production and multiple ways of working. For instance, I am drawn to traditional crafts and the handmade, but also, I like to use industrial materials and fabrication methods. I am interested in abstraction and geometry but also like using found objects and furniture. 

Similarly, there is no single message but there are recurring themes in my work of conflict, uncertainty, displacement, disorientation.  In general, I like to create work that exposes contradictions and reverberates with conflicting meanings that make you question the world around you. 

Your art is unique and surprising and you use many different and unconventional media outlets. Where do you source your inspiration and how do you get your own creativity flowing?

It is very difficult to define the sources of inspiration. Often the starting point can be the space where I am exhibiting. I like to create works in reaction to the space, its peculiarities, its history or the social fabric of the location. 

The inspiration often comes from chance encounters, accidental finds and a series of coincidences. I often like to spend a lot of time in the location, almost turning the project into a sort of residency, where I can work with local materials, local crafts or fabricators. Sometimes ideas come to my mind instantly on my first site visit and other times, I have ideas in my head for many years that only get made when I find the right space for them or the right circumstance to realise them.

How did the collaboration with ILLY come to life and what is your mission on this journey with the brand?

I think illy‘s artistic director Carlo Bach asked the curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, I had worked with before, to suggest an artist to design a new set for illy Art Collection and they suggested me. I accepted the invitation immediately, despite the fact that I was very busy and they wanted the proposal right away. I have always admired the collection and hoped that I would one day be invited. So, I was immediately inspired and came up with the idea of using different abstractions of the distinctive pattern of the Keffieh – the Arab head scarf. Since illy Café is a 100% Arabica blend, I wanted to create cups that are “100% Arabica” too and could not think of a better symbol to use than the Keffieh. I was so happy the idea was accepted and with the help of their designers creating 3D drawings of the patterns on the cups, we chose two of the patterns in three different colours. I really enjoyed the collaboration with illy. It all went very smoothly and efficiently. 

The pattern of the Keffiyeh which can be seen in the collaboration is a reoccurring element in your art pieces. What meaning does it have to you?

Yes,I have made a curious and surreal object where I embroideredthepattern of the Keffieh using long strands of human hair which flow out of the border of the cotton scarf therefore feminising this object that has a macho aura about it. And recently in my work the fishnet grid pattern has morphed into a chain-link fence that has become a bit of an obsession in an ongoing series of diverse works using pen on paper, water colour, acrylics, lithographic prints and now I was given the priviledge of decorating the illyporcelaincups.

The Keffieh is full of poetic and political symbolism. The fishnet pattern is a symbol of collectivism and is often interpreted as the joining of hands and the olive leaf on the border,for me,symbolises peace. Also, since the 60s,the Keffieh becamea potent symbol of the Palestinian cause and was also adopted by students,anti-war and anti-imperialist movements so itbecame a symbol of solidarity amongst all these movements.

How do you drink your coffee and what do you connect with this ritual? 

I normally have one strong cup of filtered coffee first thing in the morning. If later in the day I feel that I need another kick, I may have a smaller cup of coffee or if I am in a café, I will have a cappuccino.  I don’t have any coffee beyond 2 pm as it would keep me up at night.

What are your plans for the future? Do you have any projects coming up? 

A lot is happening now and I am most excited about three solo exhibitions which will open simultaneously in Berlin in mid-September next year and for which I would like to make a whole set of new works. After the long period of lockdown, my visit to the spaces in August inspired so many ideas. I just hope I will be able to get them all made in time.

Otherwise, I have two exhibitions opening simultaneously in Stockholm in February next year for which I am making a new work. I am also doing a site visit to Venice next week where I will potentially create a site specific work for the next Biennale. So it is very exciting and it is all go at the moment.

Jan Schmid & Timotej Letonja