interviewed by Predrag Pajdic, February 2007

Where does your name Roza El-Hassan derive from?

My name is Syrian, as my father comes from Syria. From my mother's side I'm Hungarian.

Actually all the education I got at home with my sisters was based on negotiation between two cultures, on the level of smallest daily practices. At home, my Hungarian, Catholic mother cooks: very often stuffed-cabbage. When she cooks, there are two pots on the electric hearth with seemingly identical content. One pot, the slightly bigger one, contains stuffed cabbage with ham and pork meat. Respecting my Syrian father's habits, she also cooks a second completely identical pot containing stuffed cabbage without ham & pork meat, replaced with turkey. To cook like this over several decades shows a high degree of political correctness. Still, as children we were permanently placed in front of a dilemma. From which pot we should be served? We were observed silently by both parents at our common table. To avoid conflict, which would have broken the family, our decisions to be served from this or from that pot were very rarely commented on.

One of the main sources of my work is about sculptural efforts to unify tricky pots like these. Such efforts can be abstract or political, from time to time quite desperate, and at other times humorous.

How did your father come to Hungary? Is the Syrian part of your identity important to you and why?

My father came in the early sixties to Budapest as a student. From my father's side I got my name and my appearance, since I do not look really Hungarian. When I was very young, all this was not important to me, but later it became somehow very important.

This question of identity is difficult to explain. I think often about a book, which is entitled "Imagined Communities". Somehow all of what is important for our identity is part of our imagination. Identities and communities you choose voluntarily. It's a voluntary decision where to belong to. At the same time it was impossible for me to avoid these choices.

Theoretically I could say simply I am Hungarian, and my Arab name, my appearance, origins and education don't count. But then there's a moment, when I feel, this is not true. I'm an Arab person, and I like to be Arab. Other times I feel it doesn't count what you are, and it is really sick to problematize this question of identity, and it's the most simple and stupid sentence to make a definite statement: "I am Arab", "I am Hungarian" etc.........

Have you ever been to Syria?

Yes, I go there quite often. Actually when I go there with my family I'm a visitor, a bit a stranger. I like to go there, and it always gives me a lot of energy for life to experience this world, which I like very much.

On the other hand the main subject of my work 'R. thinking-dreaming about overpopulation' was definitely not life in Syria, since I have the visitor's rather romantic ideas about this. I was always embedded in my family, when I was in Syria, it gave a lot of security. At the same time it is a bit isolating. I never worked in Syria as an artist until now.

The main subject of my work was the experience of living with an Arab name in Europe. It is somewhat about the projections one experiences in Europe while living with Arab identity in Hungary, or Europe. Actually, at first there were all these projections and imaginations and questions people asked me about my identity, again and again, whenever I introduced myself and told my name. Then I started to problematize this situation in my work. The discussions we had with Milica Tomic, talking about nations, racism, psychology and identity were important parts of this process.

'R. thinking-dreaming about overpopulation', is quite a complex work, one of those that you revisit and add new aspects to every time it is shown in a different place. Is it a work in progress? Or, shall I say a lifetime work that changes and develops during the course of time?

This expression "lifetime work", which you use is a nice one, I like it. It fits very well with this work. For me it is lifetime work, because there are some questions in this project which I can never answer. I can't come to the end. Besides this performance, and the borders I crossed through this performance, have changed and determined my life as a private person. To be exact the reactions one gets to a work can be very determinative and give reason to continue with that work.
Actually, at the beginning I got very negative reactions and I even experienced censorship for the first time in my life. Later I also received some positive reactions. But there's a funny desire to receive more positive reactions to this special project.  It is like receiving positive feedback to my weird hybrid identity. So one never comes to the end. The classical avant-gardist no border between life and art might be true for this work. Or this is the way I experience it.