Emily Hass lives and works in New York City. For more than a decade the core of her work was an extended series based on archival architectural records of the homes and workplaces of Jews and persecuted artists and intellectuals who were forced to leave Berlin during the Third Reich. She began the series with her father's childhood home, where he lived until 1938. Through the language of architecture, the work was concerned with identity, place, and a culture's loss both of individual citizens and of its creative tradition.
On her first MacDowell residency in 2013, Hass focused on the portion of the "Exiles" series devoted to buildings where members of the Bauhaus Group lived and worked before 1933, when the Nazi regime forced the school to close. When she returned in 2015, she developed her "String-Nail" series, tacking deconstructed vintage photo albums and scrapbooks to the walls of Firth Studio to map out ‘ghost’ building sites with string.
As Berlin became a destination for exiles fleeing conflict in Syria and elsewhere, Hass began exploring the parallels between forced migrations during WWII and current mass displacements. Time at MacDowell in 2017 enabled Hass to build on her conversations with displaced people in Berlin, depicting the refugees' lost homes and the lives they contained as simultaneously concrete and invisible. She made casts in cement and utilized canvas in non-traditional ways – soaking it in plaster, evoking remnants of buildings and first-aid bandages – canvas as sculpture, rather than a substrate for painting.
In 2019, following a research trip to Greece to learn more about the earlier stages of the migrants' journeys, she used her time at MacDowell to develop her "Unwoven" series, removing the warp or the weft of burlap strand by strand. Thinking of the repeated losses that test displaced individuals, relationships, and whole communities, she tests the limits of the structure of the fabric, taking it to a point just before it comes apart entirely. The pieces she made in Heinz were based on the corners of tarps that serve as makeshift shelters found in refugee camps on the island of Samos, Greece.
Emily Hass holds graduate degrees in psychology and design from Harvard University. In 2019 she was a Howard Foundation Fellow and has been awarded the McCloy Fellowship in Art and grants from the Gottlieb Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. In addition to MacDowell, she has received residencies at the La Maison Dora Maar, and the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.
A monograph of Hass’ "Exiles" series was published in 2021.
Portrait by Stephen Kent Johnson