Counter Monuments

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Date Submitted: 11/27/2012 01:03 PM

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Counter-Monuments and the Importance of Remembrance

Samantha Gagliano

European Humanities: Germany

Andrea Homann and Thorsten Wagner


For over fifty years cultural and art historians have been debating the function of the monument. In the 19th century, monuments were used to celebrate the power and wealth of a particular collective nation or historical figure.[1] Victors traditionally erected monuments in remembrance of the heroic deeds and achievements of a nation and its people, symbolizing a country’s sense of pride and a collective view on historical events.[2] In general, they are large constructions, forcing viewers to look up, and are centrally placed, thereby serving as anchors of positive aspects of history in material form for all generations to come. Monuments were erected with the purpose of dictating a particular meaning to the viewers while discouraging the viewers’ own personal reflections. However, the Holocaust made the erection of these “traditional” monuments in post-war Germany impossible. Directly after the war, in the 1950s, Germany’s initial focus was on physically rebuilding the country and in silencing the experiences of the persons involved in World War II.[3] Historian Aleida Assmann describes how trauma defers memory, creating a collective amnesia, and it was not until the 1980s the Holocaust victims’ voices and experiences were heard. Since the 1980s, a new generation of artists and monument makers has been rising and questioning the very notion of the traditional monument. They criticize the fact that the traditional monuments turn viewers into passive spectators by telling them what and how they should remember. These artists construct what is known as the counter-monument, which are memorial spaces conceived to challenge the very premise of the monument.[4] The counter-monument moves away from the fascist tendencies present in all traditional monuments, and uses new, innovative and...