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Mona Hatoum Kapan iki

Installation artwork consisting of five rectangular steel cages, all roughly the same size and taller than they are wide. Each cage contains a red blob of hand-blown glass that looks as though it is melting. A red glass puddle lies next to one of the cages, as if fully melted.

M+, Hong Kong. Brown Family Annual Acquisition Fund, 2018, © Mona Hatoum. Photo: M+, Hong Kong


Take a moment to look at these pieces by Mona Hatoum—if you’re seeing them for the first time, what do they make you think of? We invited ten-year-old Jane Wu and her parents to M+ and asked them exactly that.


There are invisible birds that fell on the floor, bleeding; only the blood is left as the birds are invisible. Why is there blood? Because they died; the dead birds turn into blood; so, the birds are in the blood. I can’t see the dead birds. Yeah, I think these are bird cages, without a way out.


I think they look like crooked high-rise buildings, and there’s something red in them. They didn’t make me think of Slime, but I do feel uneasy when I see them, probably because of the red colour.  And that red seems to be struggling to escape, or fall out of the gaps. 


My first impression is that they’re the same height as us. And it echoes our current circumstances with the distancing between people; the 1.5 metre distancing. However, Jane’s idea made me think, I do think there could be birds flying in the cages, crashing into the sides. And I think it’s more than one, there are five birds trapped in the cages. 


We asked Jane if she was one of the caged birds, how she would feel?


Well, the bird is miserable as it is being kept in a cage with no door.


Although the Wu family didn’t know anything about this work beforehand, their observation of the piece through its contrasting forms, colours and textures shows us how we can personally invest an artwork with our own sense of meaning. 

Hatoum believes any piece of art—including her own—has many layers. These layers mean that people will interpret the piece in very different ways, their imaginations and emotions firing off without any offered explanation from the artist. So, take another look—what do you see?


Kapan iki is a sculptural work created by Mona Hatoum in 2012. The medium includes mild steel and hand-blown glass. The dimensions of the work vary depending on how the sculptures are set up in the display space.

Five black steel cages in the shape of tall cuboids are scattered on the floor in the display area. The cages are tilted at different angles and resemble slanting buildings. The structures are of different heights, ranging from the height of an adult’s waist to that of the shoulders. The cages are made by bending and assembling ribbed black rebars, and the corners are rounded. The rebars are evenly distributed vertically and horizontally to form grids, through which the interior of the cages can be seen.

At the bottom of the interior of each cage sit one or two rounded objects made of transparent red glass. Each could be held by cupped hands. Viewed through the glass objects, the rebars at the bottom seem to be tinted red. The glass objects vary in form and shape as if they are living organic masses. All but one have a cone-shaped top with a hole in the middle. The hole is where air was introduced through a blowpipe to expand the glass. The bodies of the glass objects are plump and bulbous. They are dented by the rebars and seem to be bulging out from the grids. Some partially wrap around the rebar. Each glass piece looks like a mass of sticky liquid that has solidified while being poured out from the cage, with the main body still stuck inside. One of the glass objects is flat in shape, which appears to have just escaped out of the cage but is pinned down by the cage’s edge.