Thoughts on Commemoration, Memorials and Historical Memory

Every year German television shows documentaries about the bombing of Dresden in February 1945. At a time when the German defeat was becoming clear, the indiscriminate killing of civilians, among them many internally displaced people stands out as a senseless act of unnecessary brutality in the final months of WWII.

Commemoration makes sense if it leads to questioning the present. But if it does not lead to drawing parallels and standing against present-day violence, one might ask, what is the point of it?

A few days ago, the Syrian-German artist Manaf Halbouni inaugurated a monumental public art work in front of Dresden’s Frauenkirche. The church was destroyed during the WWII bombing and restored after Germany was reunited. Halbouni’s work, Monument, shows three erect busses in reference to a photo from Aleppo showing destroyed busses erected as a protection wall in a street, to protect its inhabitants from snipers. The work draws exactly the kind of parallel mentioned and is therefore a timely and important piece of public art. But the inauguration was sadly disturbed by the ever-backward minded right-wingers that have come to be associated with the city.

Many people have declared their support for the artist and shown a will to stand up for humanity and for the freedom of art. And the incident has been widely reported in local and international media, as these examples show:

In Manaf Halbouni’s case, his work has created controversy and discussion, something that is also an important part of art’s role in the public space. That there are strong needs to re-think the means by which we wish to commemorate past disasters was recently highlighted by Israeli satirist Shahak Shapira’s project Yolocaust in which he paired selfies taken at Berlin’s Holocaust memorial with photos from the Nazi deathcamps.

Many media outlets have written about the project, among others The Guardian:

The interesting point here is maybe that the memorial did not seem to trigger any reflection on past crimes against humanity among the young visitors, however, Shapira’s project did, as his statement on the project’s website shows:




About zakharifblog

Art historian and curator, living and working between Berlin and Geneva. Formerly based in Damascus.
This entry was posted in Activism, Art history, contemporary Arab art, Contemporary art, Installation, Public intervention, Public space, Syria, Transculturality, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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