In 1996 Mona Hatoum was invited to create a site-specific work for Gallery Anadiel in Jerusalem.
This was her first visit to Jerusalem and during this stay she came across a map with a multitude of small areas circled in red, indicating the territories which were meant to be returned to Palestinian control under the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.
This map was the inspiration for Present Tense, Hatoum’s response to this deeply problematic version of peace which left many Palestinians divided and controlled in these disconnected islands of habitation. Hatoum recreated the map using bars of traditional Palestinian olive oil soap from the famous factories in Nablus, north of Jerusalem. The red delineations of the map were made with small red glass beads from the local souk, which she pressed into the surface of the ivory coloured soap.
The pure, cleansing material of soap was deformed by the red beads that appeared like a disease disfiguring its surface; a reference to how these new borders attempted to deform the land and cripple the Palestinian people. Rendering the map in soap, a transient material, held the promise that one day it, like the borders, would be dissolved and washed away.