Róza El-Hassan (b. Budapest 1966) is one of the most prominent representatives of Hungarian contemporary art. Over the past twenty years, the artist has gained international renown with her drawings, objects, installations, videos, and actions as well as curatorial and social projects. As early as 1993, she was invited to participate in the Aperto section at the Venice Biennale, where she designed the Hungarian pavilion in 1997. A retrospective of her work was shown at Műcsarnok Kunsthalle, Budapest, five years ago. The Kupferstichkabinett
in Basel now presents a first survey of her graphic work; the 115 exhibits are complemented by a small selection of objects and sculptures. Half of the works on display are in the Kupferstichkabinetts own collection; the remaining works are on loan from Kunsthaus Zürich; evn collection, Austria; private collections in France, Hungary, and Switzerland; and the artists studio.
Drawing plays a central role in Róza El-Hassans art. It is a constant that holds all of her different activities together. The intuitive process of drawing, by exploring the material, always raises the question: what can this medium, and art more generally, accomplish today? In the 1990s, this critical reflection leads the artist to create drawings informed by conceptualism that break the mold of established formats and grow outward into space. Objects under tension, confused webs of wire, pencil-drawn networks and tangles condense into metaphors of social processes.
Sensitized by the Balkan Wars and the attacks of September 11, 2011, El-Hassan begins to ask explicitly political questions. As a woman with Hungarian-Christian as well as Syrian-Muslim roots, she finds that ethnic and religious persecution and the ideas of solidarity and collective guilt are also a personal concern. The large group of works R. Thinking / Dreaming about Overpopulation encompasses drawings, actions, and sculptures; the very title suggests a conflict between thinking and dreaming, between the intellect and the subconscious. The abstract tangles and networks of the early drawings are supplanted in this group of works by diary-like sketches and collages. These drawings, too, are distinguished by their lightness and fragility. They leave a lot of empty space, remaining open and often provisional.
Since 2001, El-Hassan has initiated numerous projects set outside of exhibition spaces, including an initiative involving basket weavers among an impoverished Roma community in Hungary that aims to blend traditional craftsmanship and contemporary design. This undertaking has led to the recent reemergence in her works of interwoven and network-like structures related to the drawings of the 1990s.
The artist regards the work on her drawings as an ongoing quest for her own identity as well as the scene of a critical engagement of fundamental questions about artistic autonomy, political relevance, and aesthetic aspirations.