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Politics of ListeningLawrence Abu Hamdan

February 7, 2024

Riding the New York City subway, artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan makes his way to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), where his 2023 exhibition Walled Unwalled and Other Monologues is underway. Using his unique methods of acoustic investigation, Abu Hamdan explores the potentials and limits of our ability to listen and truly hear. “I’ve dedicated a lot of work to thinking about a politics of listening,” says the artist. “That’s quite different to a politics of speech where everyone should have a voice because where and when those voices are heard is just as important.” At MoMA, museumgoers sit in a darkened room as Abu Hamdan appears projected on a screen, walking to a music stand before delivering the monologue at the heart of Walled Unwalled (2018). The video is one of three works in the exhibition that describe a range of strategies for listening and that make distinct political claims. Rehearsing for the performance After SFX (2018), Abu Hamdan and percussionist Eli Keszler experiment with “playing” different types of doors. In the performance, Keszler’s instrumentation complements a monologue delivered by the artist, both pointing to the nature of sonic experiences and memories as distinct from, and even in excess of, the visual.

In his work, the artist often considers borders and boundaries as charged sites. In the film 45th Parallel (2022), the artist considers the borders of the United States. Abu Hamdan says, “The border exists as something that is absurd, and yet they are this sort of network of power that is being exerted, sometimes in completely lethal ways.” In (2022), the artist identifies 22,111 times that Israeli military planes and drones have flown into Lebanese airspace between 2006 and 2021. This data is made public on a website Abu Hamdan developed,, and sits alongside social-media posts that demonstrate how the sonic pressure is felt by citizens on the ground. “This is not a work about whose air it is being violated, the air doesn’t belong to the Lebanese either,” says the artist. “It’s a work about how you turn the air violent and how sound is really an effective way to do this.” As the website circulated widely, Abu Hamdan realized a need to expand his capacity to perform acoustic investigations like this one, and so he established Earshot, a nonprofit devoted to this form of investigative work. “I want to build greater cognizance of what good listening can do and what story sound can tell,” says Abu Hamdan. “There’s so much more to do and so many other ways in which we can give people the space and time to be heard.”

More information and credits


Director: Ian Forster. Executive Producer: Tina Kukielski. Series Producer: Ian Forster. Camera: Jarred Alterman. Editor: Thomas Niles. Sound: Pasquin Mariani. Colorist: Max Blecker. Sound mix: Collin Blendell. Music: Epidemic Sound. Assistant Editor: Michelle Hanks. Associate Producer: Andrea Chung. Assistant Curator: Jurrell Lewis. Artwork Courtesy: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Maureen Paley, Mor-Charpentier, Sfeir-Semler. Footage Courtesy: Amnesty International, Earshot, Forensic Architecture, The Museum of Modern Art.

Extended Play is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts; and, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; Dawn and Chris Fleischner; the Art21 Contemporary Council; and by individual contributors.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Lawrence Abu Hamdan

Lawrence Abu Hamdan was born in 1985 in Amman, Jordan, and currently lives and works in Dubai, UAE. The artist received a BA in 2007 from Middlesex University London and an MA in 2010 and a PhD in 2016 from Goldsmiths, University of London. Abu Hamdan works across video, performance, installation, and sound to create works that foreground the importance of listening in our understanding of conflicts, injustices, one another, and the world around us. Drawing upon his work investigating international human rights cases, geopolitical conflicts, and individual legal or political claims, Abu Hamdan’s practice considers the possibilities held within new modes of listening.

“I’ve dedicated a lot of work to thinking about a politics of listening. That’s quite different to politics of speech, where everyone should have a voice. Because where and when those voices are heard is just as important.”

Lawrence Abu Hamdan