American University of Beirut

Mona Hatoum's Acceptance Speech

​​June 28, 2008

I am extremely pleased to be awarded this Honorary Doctorate from the American University of Beirut. 

This is for me very significant and at the same time, quite ironic. Ironic because back in 1970, I wanted to study art at AUB but was not accepted (I did not have the required academic qualifications). In fact, I was never that interested in academic achievement. It was as if I had made a pact with my eldest sister: she was the A student in the family and I was the one who did just enough to pass the exams and be left alone to get on with my own thing. 

Although I have received quite a bit of recognition in the last few years, both from England and other European countries in the form of awards, prizes and professorships, what makes this Honorary Doctorate more significant is that it is from my home town. There is nothing like being recognized in the place you come from! 

I was born right here! In fact, right next door, at the American University Hospital and I was fortunate enough to experience Lebanon at the best of times. 

On my first trip to Europe in 1975, I got literally stranded in London because of the outbreak of the civil war. What was supposed to be a short visit for a week or two, ended up being a life changing direction. 

I was able to pursue my art studies in London first at the Byam Shaw School of Art, then at the Slade School (which is part of London University College). 

These were very difficult times for me. Being alone in London, working all hours of the day in a cold and unfriendly environment in order to support myself and see myself through art school while watching Lebanon being torn apart in several stages and developments of the war…and with a constant fear for the safety of my parents who lived very close to the Green Line. I hope Lebanon will never have to experience these dark times again and my biggest wish is that, in my lifetime, I would be able to see permanent peace throughout the whole region. 

In getting this degree I am proud to join other members of my family who have had a strong connection with this University. My first cousin, Samir Deeb was a student here in the 50s and, after getting his Doctorate from the University of Washington, he returned to AUB in 1965 as an Assistant Professor in Biology. He then became Professor and Chairman of the Biology Department until 1983 when he had to leave because of the war. His wife, Barbara Deeb was also a faculty member at AUB during that time. 

My sister Rima Hatoum was also associated with this University for 10 years from 1964, first as a student, then as an assistant professor in the Psychology Department until 1974 when she left for the States to further her studies. 

Continuing on this personal note, I would like to posthumously thank both my parents who came to Beirut from Haifa in 1948. My father Youssef Salim Hatoum worked at the British Embassy in Beirut from that point and for the rest of his working life and was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his distinguished service to the British State. My mother Claire Eid Hatoum for her unfaltering support and encouragement. Both my parents gave me a sense of pride in who I am and, most importantly, they taught me never to deny my origins however unacceptable they might be in certain cultures and societies. 

I would like to thank both my sisters Rima and Leila who have seen me through my darkest hours. I would also like to thank my husband Gerry Collins who came into my life at the point when I became excessively busy and had to share with me the numerous trials and tribulations what come with being a busy artist. Without his support and help, I am not sure how I would have got through the last 15 years. 

I would most of all like to thank the committee for Honorary Degrees, the trustees, the chairman of the trustees and the President for honoring me with this degree. 

And, finally, I would like to thank you all and, especially the members of my family and my old school friends for coming here today to share this momentous occasion.​

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