February 19, 2004 - University of Copenhagen - Mona Hatoum receives the 2004 Sonning Prize
February 19, 2004

Mona Hatoum receives the 2004 Sonning Prize

Mona Hatoum receives the 2004 Sonning Prize

University of Copenhagen
University of Copenhagen, Communication Department
Mette Damgaard Sorensen, publicity coordinator
+ 45 3532 4264 / + 45 2875 4264

image: Mona Hatoum, Homebound 2000, (Installation Kassel, Germany 2002), Photo: Dieter Schwerdtle; Courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube (London)

Mona Hatoum receives the 2004 Sonning Prize

The 2004 Sonning Prize will be awarded to the British-Palestinian sculptor, performance and installation artist Mona Hatoum. This is the first time the Sonning Prize is awarded to a visual artist. The award will be presented on Friday, 23 April 2004 in the Ceremonial Hall at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

The Sonning Prize is awarded every other year by the University of Copenhagen to a man or woman “who has significantly contributed to the advancement of European civilization”.

According to the prize committee, Mona Hatoum’s contribution to the European visual arts tradition makes her an obvious recipient of the Sonning Prize. She has developed an aesthetically distinct, political language to express the experiences of refugees and immigrants and their need to balance identity somewhere between modern Europe and their non-European native countries.

As the nominating committee put it:

“In the world of culture, more specifically the world of visual arts, the British-Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum is someone who has found the most significant visual expression for the experience of ‘New Europeans’ as living on that unstable ground between two cultures, where you do not feel at home in either – not the one you left or fled from nor the one you have voluntarily or involuntarily become a part of.”

The Committee’s selection for the Sonning Prize winner is applauded by Oystein Hjort, professor in art history at the University of Copenhagen. “Mona Hatoum’s works are both distinctive and visually astonishing,” says Professor Hjort. “Her works reveal the individual, exposed and vulnerable, and she reflects disease, suffering and death, oppression, even torture in many of her pieces. The body is an important part of her working process, where taboos are challenged and dismantled in a continuous attempt to redefine the place of humanity in a politically infected world.”

Mona Hatoum’s relationship with the unsettled, fragmented and vulnerable identity felt by many “New Europeans” is nourished by personal experience with migration and exile – without this making her art a private affair. She was born in Beirut in 1952 to Palestinian parents who had been forced into exile, where she grew up with an ambivalent, unsettled sense of being both at home and homeless.

While on a visit to England at the age of 23, civil war erupted in Lebanon and she was prevented from returning home to her family. Instead, she applied to a school of art in London, where she has lived and work ever since.

Her work

Among her most notable works is her video entitled Measures of Distance, which portrays, through portrait photos and excerpts of letters to and from her mother in Beirut, the Arab woman’s identity with distance and intimacy in the relationship between mother and daughter.

The installation entitled Homebound – furniture and household items united in an electrical circuit and fenced in by metal cables as a security zone – tells a story about the home and family as an unstable, exposed and dangerous zone.

Mona Hatoum’s many years’ work with space, body, objects and meaning has made her an important inspiration for especially younger artists.

Mona Hatoum can be contacted through

University of Copenhagen, Communication Department

Mette Damgaard Sorensen, publicity coordinator

+ 45 3532 4264 / + 45 2875 4264

High resolution pictures can be downloaded from the following links. The pictures can be used for free in connection with this press release, if you credit the photographer.

Homebound (2000), foto: Edward Woodman.


Measures of Distance (1988), foto: Mona Hatoum.


Portret af Mona Hatoum, foto: Johnnie Shand Kydd.


The Sonning Prize

The Sonning Prize is awarded according to the provisions of the Sonning Foundation. The foundation was set up by the late author and editor C.J. Sonning. It is awarded to a man or woman who has significantly contributed to the advancement of European civilization

The DKK 1 million Sonning Prize is normally awarded every other year, when possible on C.J. Sonning’s birthday on 19 April.

Nominations to the Sonning Prize may be submitted by European universities. The prize winner is selected by a committee appointed by the Academic Council at the University of Copenhagen. The Committee is chaired by Linda Nielsen, rector.

Prize recipients (title and native country):

1959 – Albert Schweitzer, theologian and philosopher, Germany

1960 – Bertrand Russell, philosopher, England

1961 – Niels Bohr, physicist, Denmark

1962 – Alvar Aalto, architect, Finland

1963 – Karl Barth, theologian, Switzerland

1964 – Dominique Pire, theologian, Belgium

1965 – Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, author and statesman, Austria

1966 – Sir Laurence Olivier, actor, England

1967 – W.A. Visser’t Hooft, theologian, the Netherlands

1968 – Arthur Koestler, author, Hungary

1969 – Haldor Laxness, author, Iceland

1970 – Max Tau, author, Germany

1971 – Danilo Dolci, social worker, Italy

1973 – Karl Popper, philosopher, Austria

1975 – Hannah Arendt, political theoretician, Germany

1977 – Arne Naess, philosopher, Norway

1979 – Herman Gmeiner, founder of the SOS Children’s Villages, Austria

1981 – Dario Fo, playwright, actor, director, Italy

1983 – Simone de Beauvoir, author, France

1985 – William Heinesen, author, Faroe Islands

1987 – Jurgen Habermas, philosopher and sociologist, Germany

1989 – Ingmar Bergman, film and theatre director, Sweden

1991 – Vaclav Havel, author and head of state, the Czech Republic

1994 – Krzysztof Kieslowski, film director, Poland

1996 – Gunter Grass, author, Germany

1998 – Jorn Utzon, architect, Denmark

2000 – Eugenio Barba, theatre director and founder of the Odin Theatre, Italy

2002 – Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for human rights, Ireland

2004 – Mona Hatoum, visual artist, Lebanon

An extra prize was awarded in 1950 to Sir Winston Churchill.

A major survey exhibition of Mona Hatoum’s work will be on view at Hamburg Kunsthalle, 26 March – 31 May 2004, Kunstmuseum Bonn, 17 June – 29 August 2004 and Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, 9 September – 19 December 2004.


University of Copenhagen
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