Born in Budapest but holding dual Hungarian and Syrian citizenship, RózaEl-Hassan’s practice is shaped by working with refugees in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. Combining the use of maquettes and mixed media sculptures with works on paper and wall-drawings, El-Hassan merges many contradictory qualities into a multi-faceted and nuanced reflection on the human condition and particularly marginalized communities and refugees. El-Hassan is also the founder of Syrian Voices: Mediation and Art a digital platform for Syrian Artists on Facebook and blog.
Much of El-Hassan’s practice involves social intervention and social design projects, such as her project No Corruption, a brand of wicker bags and cases based on an old technique and developed together with members of the mostly impoverished Romani community in Hungary (who number 600.000) to alleviate their economic situation. The first location of this project was Szendrőlád, a small Romani village in eastern Hungary, in the forest of the Borsod Mountains. One of the traditional crafts of this village is a special wicker technique and unique techniques of wood chip braiding, called szilács, which were used on this occasion. Many of the projects that El-Hassan develops thus combine social function with environmentally friendly techniques of production.
Such an example is the ‘Beehive’ or ‘Adobe House’ eco-architecture, part of Róza El-Hassan’s long-term research into ecological, sustainable and humanitarian Syrian architecture, as a small scale possible solution to the refugee housing crisis. This house is where the artist’s ancestors lived and which was a common housing type in villages in northern Syria until the 1970s. The Beehive is a rotund building with a very high dome, at least four or five meters high. As the artist recalls from her childhood, inside these domes there was a sense of warm hospitality, and they were nearly empty and always very clean. In response to possible solutions for the housing problem due to the Syrian refugee crisis, El-Hassan decided to re-visit this simple architectural form as a model for re-building based on cheap, sustainable local materials (adobe mud bricks). The domed constructions – which have remained the same for thousands of years - do not need to be insulated in winter, keep cool in summer and produce no pollution. When no longer needed they crumble and turn to mud. For the exhibition an Adobe house has been constructed as an outdoor sculptural installation using local building materials in Greece and with the help of local builders, who at the same time will benefit from learning an age-old Syrian craft. This building is functional prototype for emergency housing that can be mass-produced with support from the NGO sector. As the artist herself says: “At this moment I do not know what will happen in Syria during the next months, how people will have the strength to rebuild it. I try to think on the smallest scale: the dome made of mud, the Beehive and the one-room cube, or two rooms, with a framed photo of a relative and a mattress as all their sole belongings - our Syrian modernity, our pride. Anything more complex exceeds what my imagination can bear.”
Róza El-Hassan (born 1966, Hungary) studied at the Hungarian Art Academy, and at the Städelschule, Frankfurt. Her art has been exhibited in numerous exhibitions including: Fu- ture Dialect (with Martha Rosler), Kunstraum Riehen, Basel (2016); The Welfare State, M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp, and Revolution, Utopia, Avant-Garde, Ludwig Museum, Budapest (2015); Objects and Draw- ings, solo show, Thomas Erben Gallery, New York (2014); The System Doesn't Contain Our Hearts, Gandy Gallery, Bratislava (2012); R.thinking/dreaming about overpopulation, a Retrospective, Kunsthalle Mücsarnok, Budapest (2006); Roza El-Hassan, Drawings, Drawing Center, New York (2003); Objekte, Vienna Secession (2000); Hungarian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, (1997).
Breeze 7, M HKA, Antwerp
Site-specific installation with adobe bricks,
Photo: Christine Clinch