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Róza EL-HASSAN, visual artist, 1966

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Till today I experience pangs of irrational guilt when I think of how I started the student revolution at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts. I participated, at first, inadvertently, and later, actively.

The student revolution broke out when I submitted some material for a German call for entries to be judged by the university council of the Academy. Zoltán Szegedy-Maszák, a student present during the jury session, saw that panel members didn’t even open the folders; it had already been decided who would be given this opportunity to travel.

We made the case public, setting off a veritable avalanche. One student council meeting led to the next. At the age of twenty, there we were, the four of us, sitting behind a table in Barcsay Hall: Attila Csörgő, who was my husband at the time, Gábor Bakos, Zoltán Szegedy-Maszák, and myself with a mass of students facing us. We gave a speech – with mostly Zoltán speaking, rather eloquently. A fair but tough man.
Now another image flashes before my mind. We wrote in paint on the sidewalk in front of the Academy that we wanted György Jovánovics as leader of the Academy, instead of István Kiss, who was rector at the time. Proclamations, free election of faculty members, more openness. Teaching assistants should not become teachers. Many details elude me now.

Although in my mind, I knew that a change was necessary, in the end, our success left me with a bad experience, rather than a sense of intoxication: a university council session with the old participants. Old people, who break out in tears and collapse. I knew that István Kiss alternated between casting bronze Lenin statues and shipping garden gnomes to the United States. He had to go. But what had this man ever done to me? Why did I have to be the means through which he was removed from his position – through which his career was broken in half? The atmosphere was horrific and there was no way back. Árpád Szabados asked us during a break between classes to be humane.

In the meantime, the power vacuum was already there; who should now be teaching us, whom should we bring in?
For my part, I was completely uninformed.
Professor Chikán (his first name perhaps Bálint) who taught us sociology or political economics was supportive of our cause from day one. He has passed away since.
He brought us lists of artists of the Hungarian avantgarde who had been moved out of the way. I remember the names of Dóra Maurer, György Jovánovics, and Ákos Birkás on this list. He also took us to Pécs, to see the sculptor István Bencsik. His list was long.
He was a quiet and calm man. As per our request, he tried to be as unbiased as he could when giving us advice. He also took us to see his brother Attila Chikán at the dormitory of the Hungarian University of Economics [presently Corvinus University of Budapest]. Tamás Deutsch, Gábor Fodor (then friends) and many others were all sitting at the table, perhaps even Orbán. I specifically recall Deutsch and Fodor, because there was no literary society at the dormitory of University of Economics, which was later frequented by these politicians for holding debates and planning the regime change. We had discussions with them.

Strangely, many months that followed now elude me. Perhaps I was not a part of what was happening. Autumn came. When I enrolled at the university for the semester, the new Intermedia Department was already in place under the leadership of Miklós Peternák and János Sugár. Later, I often said while staying abroad that, for us, the revolution resulted in media department. It was also around this time that Peter Weibel founded the Media Department in Frankfurt, but without a revolution.
Dóra Maurer and György Jovánovics were invited to teach at the painting and sculpture departments, respectively. But initially, no one had status. Professor Chikán quietly retired, I rarely saw him after.
Guest speakers and new faculty members came. To me, their main characteristic was that they never drank, unlike the somber artists who had previously taught at the Academy. They were intellectuals. Péter György, Béla Bacsó, and Miklós Peternák. We also had many international lecturers.

It is ironic that my individual career took off quite irrespectively of the student revolution and my calamitous application. Perhaps it had even started before all that, I can’t be sure now. A completely apolitical Margit Valkó was guiding an international guest through the studios of the Academy. I was there, crouching on the ground, building abstract circles from plaster on the floor: I was working on my piece entitled “Water” for my diploma.
The guest was standing behind my back. He told me that he really liked the objects, then gave me his card and said that I should write him after finishing my diploma, if I feel like going to Frankfurt.
The revolution came and went. In the meantime, I completed my diploma work in painting and started my studies at the Intermedia Department. But I was restless, I picked a fight with everyone for no reason. I was so worn out by the student revolution that I became completely antisocial; an almost harmful presence within the new community.

It was then that I stumbled across the German business card again with the name Kasper König on it. As I then came to find out, he was director of Staedelschule and, later director of the Ludwig Museum in Köln. A few weeks later I was in Germany and Herr König uttered a sentence he would often repeat after: “Róza, you are now on track.”
So this is how come I have an indefinable sense of guilt for breaking out the student revolution.

Postscript – a parallel event:
My most beautiful and lasting experience from ’89 is the funeral of Imre Nagy with Rajk’s artwork, the columns of the Műcsarnok / Kunsthalle in black, my ex-husband, Attila Csörgő, and I carry a flower to the grave. My dear grandmother, Mrs. János Laurencsik, maiden name: Rozália Darula, is sitting on the sofa. We are having dinner. Then, in the evening, she sees us on TV, she is happy for her grandchildren and quietly weeps, remembering ’56. The day has come: her hopes have been realized.

Postscript number two:

The moment Margit Valkó entered the door of the studio, along with Kasper König and someone else that I don’t recall, I didn’t yet know any of them. But by then, the Knoll Gallery of Budapest had probably already been established, which can be regarded as a result of the regime change. As can the fact that an employee of an Austrian gallery was showing the director of a (West) German university around the premises of the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts. As, furthermore, can the fact that I was able to go and study in Frankfurt with a Hungarian passport for six months, because the wall had already collapsed.

 

Postscript number three:
I have no explanation for why Gábor Fodor and Tamás Deutsch – who, back in those days, sat at the same table at the dormitory of the University of Economics – ended up in different parties. But I see the problems of the regime change as originating in big and tense arguments. All this, however, is a rather uninformed formulation – not political but based on autobiographical experience.


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