Hatoum was born in Beirut, to a Palestinian family. She attended Beirut University College from 1970 to 1972. She came to Britain as a student in the mid-1970s, settling in London in 1975 when civil war in the Lebanon made her return home impossible. She studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art from 1975 to 1979 and at the Slade School of Art from 1979 to 1981. Throughout the 1980s she held a number of artist’s residencies in Britain, Canada and the United States. Hatoum has occupied part-time teaching positions in London, Maastricht, and Cardiff, where she was Senior Fellow at Cardiff Institute of Higher Education from 1989 to 1992, and in the mid-1990s she taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Hatoum’s pieces are concerned with confrontational themes such as violence, oppression and voyeurism, often in reference to the human body. Conflict arises from the juxtaposition of opposites such as beauty and horror, desire and revulsion. Until 1988 Hatoum worked mainly with video and performance. Since 1989 she has concentrated on making installations, the first group of which were exhibited in 1992 at the Chapter Gallery, Cardiff. She has created a number of works using metal grids which allude to physical violence and imprisonment, notably Light Sentence (1992). She has also explored these themes in a number of smaller sculptures based on items of furniture, such as Incommunicado (1993, Tate Gallery T06988). She has had solo exhibitions at the Chapter Gallery, Cardiff (1992), the Arnolfini, Bristol (1993) and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1994), as well as at a number of venues across Canada. In 1995 she was shortlisted for the Turner Prize at the Tate Gallery. She lives in London.