Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros1Actualité de la rechercheInternational conference: “New Mo...

Actualité de la recherche

International conference: “New Monuments: Iconoclasm, Reenactments, and Alternative Commemorations in the United States since 2000”

INHA (Institut national d’histoire de l’art), Paris France, March 15-16, 2024
Hilary Meuter et Noah Randolph

Entrées d’index

Haut de page

Texte intégral

1The symposium was organized by Martyna Ewa Majewska (Terra Foundation for American Art Postdoctoral Research and Teaching Fellow), Wendy Bellion (University of Delaware), Judith Delfiner (Université Paris Nanterre) and Catherine Marcangeli (Université Paris Cité). Over the course of two days, seasoned academics and young scholars convened at the National Institute of Art History in Paris, France to present and discuss themes of monuments, memory, art aesthetics, ethics and history in the United States since 2000.

Day 1, March 15

2Opening remarks were made by Professor Mechtild Widrich (School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Widrich provided two case studies to demonstrate the importance of participation, engagement and visitor experience, the first case study being the “Color Mushroom Cloud” by artist Cai Guo-Qiang at the University of Chicago, completed in December 2017. Widrich described the installation as sending an ambiguous message: she asked if the monument was a concession to, or a reminder of, nuclear warfare. The reception by the public resulted in a protest performance in December 2017 by students at the University of Chicago at Henry Moore’s sculpture “Nuclear Energy.” The second case study was Emilio Rojas’ 25-hour performance of rolling and unrolling a piece of sod entitled “The Grass is Always Greener and/or Twice Stolen Land.” Rojas’ performance addressed the complicated relationship to land by rolling and unrolling a piece of sod for 7 kilometers between the University of British Columbia and the Musqueam Reserve. The performance was representative of his multidisciplinary approach. Mechtild praised Roja’s work as orientating the public to sites, and situating us in geography and space, as opposed to a top down approach as seen at the University of Chicago. Mechtild noted the essential component of the audience and how commemoration offers no easy solution, but emphasized it is worthwhile to keep trying.

Panel 1: Old Stories, New Narratives

3Noah Randolph (Temple University), opened Panel 1 with his talk entitled “Taking up Space: Refusing the Logics of Monumentality in New Orleans.” Randolph centered his presentation on the now-removed Beauregard statue in New Orleans, Louisiana, and two performative pieces by Paula Wilson and Nico Brierre Aziz. Randolph described removal as a proverbial “chapter closed,” however empty pedestals remained. He provided the example of artist Paula Wilson, who turned to her own body for performative art by dancing on the Beauregard pedestal. Randolph described Wilson and her performance as a “Black sense of place” which rejected monumental logics. Wilson’s spoke to the monument removal process as one that is not complete, since she herself now becomes a part of the history of the Beauregard statue. Randolph’s second example was Nico Brierre Aziz and his piece entitled “New Wars, New Stories, New Heroes,” also on the Beauregard pedestal. Both Brierre-Aziz and Wilson addressed the forgotten and their method of “living monuments” do not seek to explain or resolve but rather depict the aesthetic impossibility of resolution. Randolph categorized living monumentality as addressing the everyday, a rejection to once standing confederate statuary.

4Susan Garza (Texas A&M Corpus Christi) continued Panel 1 with her presentation “How Do We Honor Struggle in Plantation Spaces?” The overall theme of Garza’s talk was the visuality of plantation spaces, and her main finding is that heritage plantation spaces include very little information in regard to their (enslaved) struggle as the emphasis is instead on the architecture and the history of the family who owned the plantations. Garza described plantation “culture” as meaning homemaking, nature and wedding venues, which Garza pointed out does not fit the history of the enslaved. She used the Magnolia Plantation (Charleston, SC) and Oak Alley Plantation (Vacherie, LA) as examples of websites which concentrate on the nature, beauty and preservation of the main house on plantation spaces. Garza compared this type of plantation to the Whitney Plantation (Edgard, LA), whose sole purpose was to focus on the enslaved, contrary to “most” plantation spaces. The Whitney Plantation honors over 100,000 enslaved in Louisiana, including children. The website alone provides information on working conditions, physical issues, death causes (and numbers). It is the only plantation where the history of the enslaved has been taken into account. Garza’s comparison demonstrates the complex nature of these spaces today as ownership continues to play a key role in who decides how plantation spaces are preserved and presented to the public.

5Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders (University of Colorado-Boulder) closed out Panel 1 with her talk “The Contested Civil War Sesquincentennial: An Incomplete Recognition of Black Civil War Memory in “Post-Racial” America.” Dr. Lawrence-Sanders framed the 150th anniversary celebrations of the end of the Civil War within the context of the Obama presidency, and his speech which alluded to the empty promises of the Emancipation Proclamation. Lawrence-Sanders argued there were more local and national tensions at the 150th than in past years, reflecting how ultimately Civil War memory is not fully integrated in commemoration events. Intentionally or not, the centrality of slavery and race is an ongoing discussion of Civil War commemoration. Lawrence-Sanders provided the example of Black-centered events held by Black institutions, such as the counter abolitionist ball in Tallahassee, Florida. She argued that without a national commission for Civil War commemoration, racial divisions will continue to exist. Lawrence-Sanders concluded that the Sesquicentennial, which started peacefully, ended with controversy as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. Discussion over whose history matters, which is at the heart of memory work, resulted in long overdue conversations, although the work is not nearly completed.

Panel 2: Iconoclasm and Institutions

6Clémentine Tholas (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle) started Panel 2 with her presentation “From the Jim Crow South to Los Angeles: Reusing Decommissioned Confederate Monuments in a Contemporary Art Exhibit.” Tholas focused on the aspects of what can be done with confederate monuments once they are removed from their pedestals of former glory. She gave the example of a former warehouse space in Los Angeles which houses confederate iconography. Unlike a museum space which would preserve confederate statues, the example in Los Angeles used statuary for contemporary art. Once discourse moves away from iconoclasm, we are left with the looming question of what to do with decommissioned statues and their pedestals. Tholas’s presentation offered a unique example of the possible future of removed confederate monuments.

7Clare Fisher (University of St Andrews) continued with her presentation “Place Making: Campus Contextualization and New Concepts of the Monument.” Fisher focused on the combination of higher education as a place, in conjunction with the emergence of a new generation of monuments. She contextualized her analysis by providing the example of “The Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland,” an immersive art experience found on the campus of St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Dedicated in 2020, the “Commemorative” is a house-like monument consisting of “ghost frames” representing aspects of time and space and the incompleteness that comes with transition. While the structure alludes to slave cabins, it is not fully constructed, asking visitors to fill in blanks themselves. Fisher’s analysis, like Laura Macaluso’s which followed, addressed the role of universities and their ongoing responsibilities when discussing historical truths and commemoration.

8Laura Macaluso (Independent Scholar) rounded out the second panel with her talk “Mending Broken Glass: New Monuments in New Haven,” which centered around the June 2016 window breaking at the formerly named Calhoun College at Yale University. After the window was broken by local Corey Menafee, a new window entitled “Broken is Mended” was installed. Macaluso took a critical look at the new installment and the completion process by asking “Who was the new installment for?” and “What impact has the installment had?” Macaluso argued that ultimately it was not just about Yale, but the greater community of New Haven, illustrating how campus monuments, like the campuses themselves, are not isolated entities, but rather engage the greater communities in which they are placed.

Panel 3: Iconoclasm and Community Building

9Alison Fields (University of Oklahoma) opened the final panel of the day with her presentation “Remembering Spanish Colonization in New Mexico.” Using the Cuarto Centenario memorial project as an example, she examined the challenges which can arise when discussing themes of group remembrance. New Mexico, like much of the American Southwest, is home to memories which challenge one another, in this case Spanish colonialism and Indigenous people. Fields, in her talk and in past publications, spoke of trauma and healing, describing monuments as active rather than passive. Acting as a place of conflict resolution and mediation, the Cuarto Centenario memorial project points to the multi-faceted responsibilities of modern-day monuments.

10Hilary Sanders (Université Toulouse – Jean Jaurès) followed with her talk titled “The Aspirational Politics of Commemorating Chinese Heritage in Portland, Oregon.” Located in the east side of Portland, Oregon, Sanders looked at Lone Fir Cemetery, located in the east side of Portland, Oregon, as an example of success in memorialization. The cemetery, originally known simply as “Block 14,” was the burial site for nearly 2,800 Chinese and Chinese American people, discovered during a redevelopment project by the city. However, the site was already well-known by the Chinese community of Portland. As discussions arose regarding what to do with the remains, a daunting task given the lack of headstones or markers, the city faced a choice between continuing with development or making the space a memorial for those buried there. Ultimately, the city decided to dedicate the space as a memorial. For Sanders, the success of the memorial lies not in its design, but in its community involvement and support from the city. As many of the presentations focused on aesthetic considerations, the example of Lone Fir Cemetery shows that this is secondary to the place-making potential for memorial spaces.

11Following this, Leena Crasemann and Anne Röhl (Universität Siegen, Germany) considered the impact of craft and craftivism on the symbolic landscape. Their talk, titled “Meshing Southern Myths and Covering ‘Discoverers’: Textile Interventions in Processes of Decolonizing Monuments since 2017,” began with a case study of the Kudzu Project. Emerging amid the movement to remove Confederate monuments in New Orleans, the Kudzu Project exemplifies the contestation of constructed histories within still-standing monuments. The project involves covering Confederate monuments with knitted designs inspired by the growing pattern of kudzu. Kudzu is an invasive plant that was originally introduced to the United States following the Civil War, originally offered as a gift by the Japanese government in recognition of the bicentennial. Since then, kudzu has become a permanent feature of the United States and especially the South, growing across interstate embankments and vacant lots, signifying abandonment and lack of landscaping or care. Similarly, they discussed the work of Dominican American artist Joiri Minaya. In her series Cloaking (2019-), Minaya covers statues and monuments honoring figures like Christopher Columbus and Ponce de León with tropical fabrics that evoke the natural flora and fauna of the lands that they colonized. By covering monuments in textiles that evoke the return of nature, these projects use the presence of the monuments against themselves, showing that the history that they represent is one that has been abandoned and grown over.

12The first keynote address was given by Professor Wendy Bellion (University of Delaware). Her much-celebrated book, Iconoclasm in New York: Revolution to Reenactment, detailed the long and complicated history of the monument to King George III in New York City that was toppled on the eve of the Revolutionary War in 1776. The book was prescient, being published in 2019 in the aftermath of controversies sparked by the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which violently protested the removal of the monument to Robert E. Lee. What Bellion could not predict was how relevant the study would be the following year, when more monuments were removed in the United States than ever before in response to international calls for reckoning with symbols in public space. Bellion’s keynote was meant to update her 2019 study, placing it within the context of all that has happened over the five years since the book was published. She began with a recapitulation of the story of the King George III statue, which was erected in 1770 to acknowledge the King’s role in abolishing the much-reviled Stamp Act. With tensions at fever pitch six years later, the statue quickly became a symbol of British oppression and was torn down by a mob that gathered to protest colonial rule. The story of the statue does not end there, though. The statue was then melted down, with the lead repurposed for bullets that were then fired at British troops during the Revolutionary War. What is curious for Bellion is not this initial moment of “repurposing,” but the ways in which the scene took on a life of its own for the young country, becoming a case study on how representation and re-presentation of destruction works. The toppling of the statue is now a touchstone for the history of the American Revolution, one that festered and grew within the national consciousness in the following centuries through paintings and lithographs, as well as multiple popular reenactments during parades, festivals, and even at museums that continue to this day. How then, can this act of iconoclasm and its aftermath inform our current moment? Bellion straddled the line between the two sides, heeding the visual and physical violence of iconoclasm while acknowledging the power of oppressive symbols in public space. Nonetheless, she pointed out the many parallels between the story of King George III in New York City and Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville. The very statue that incited the Unite the Right rally has since been removed and was recently melted down—not for the purpose of bullets, but for a new monument. While that design has not been unveiled, she noted that just like the effigy of George III within the bullets shot from American muskets, Lee will always-already be present.

Day 2, March 16

Panel 1: Reconsidering Memorials

13The second day of the symposium began with the panel titled “Reconsidering Memorials.” The first speaker, Hilary Meuter (Technische Universität Dortmund), presented a case study on the contradictions that underlie memorialization in the southern United States, specifically looking at Montgomery, Alabama. Montgomery is an important site for the history and mythologies of the modern civil rights movement as well as the Confederacy. For this dichotomy, Meuter looked to Germany’s memorial culture surrounding the Holocaust. Though often misunderstood by scholars in the United States as the ultimate model for reconciliation and reparation through memorialization, Meuter clarified the ways in which such spaces are seen in German culture. Memorialization is an ongoing process that is never complete—a method of Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung, or a coming to terms with the past. Therefore, to understand the lynching memorial, one must understand the Confederate monument on state grounds. What is unique is its proximity to the first monument dedicated to the legacy of the enslavement of Black people. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice—also known as the National Lynching Memorial—got much funding, but unlike the Confederate monument, it did not receive money from the state of Alabama. There is then this sense of national inheritance and collective liability, especially considering Alabama’s ban on critical race theory in history education, the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, and the fact that the Governor did not attend the unveiling ceremony of the National Lynching Memorial. With all of this considered, how can memorials then help us work through the past? Ultimately Meuter identified monuments as an educational force in the face of governmental bans, but acknowledged that they are not the end of the conversation.

14Jo-Ann Morgan (Western Illinois University) then presented her talk “Memorials Protesting Gun Violence.” Well-known for her scholarship on the Black Arts Movement and the visual culture of the Black Panther Party, Morgan instead discussed her own art practice and her post-art history career. In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Morgan bought a sewing machine and began making quilts that focused on gun violence and the inundation of deaths caused by police brutality with what she termed “Death of the Month” quilts. Morgan acknowledged that this was quite macabre, but nonetheless looked to the quilt as an uplifting memorial. She framed this through her own scholarship, asking: how has power been presented through visual means? Thinking through how the Black Panthers used posters, Morgan’s quilts seek to elevate the subject through monumental representation. Indeed, imagery memorializing victims of police violence was central to the inception of the Black Panthers. It was the police shooting of Denzel Dowell and the resulting protest at the California State Capitol that brought the Black Panthers to national consciousness, along with the monumental images of Bobby Hutton with his hands up placed on billboards around the state. Such instances show the importance of the image in the process of elevating the subject and bringing attention to the event. In such representation, Morgan focuses on the celebration of life more than the mourning of loss, offering a pathway into other methods of memorialization and monumentality.

15The final talk of the session came from Cher Knight (Emerson College) and Harriet Senie (CUNY,), two of the foremost thinkers and writers on public art and memorial culture. For them, writing about memorials is a sustained form of advocacy. The question at the center of their paper was the following: how do we write about memorials? Though cynicism can come easily when writing about monuments, both Knight and Senie center on the real value and issues of art in public space. After all, public art focuses on matters that concern the public. Having helped with public art policy and consulted on public art commissions, Knight and Senie noted that because of this concern it is important not to shy away from controversial artworks, and that serving as an advisor is not a symbolic gesture. In this capacity, there is a need to codify histories that goes along with the creation of policy. Writing helps push this along. But how? To begin with, it is necessary to italicize the names of monuments and memorials, as it recognizes their status as works of art—which they have long been denied—, as well as the role that they perform in public space. To this end, Knight acknowledged the importance of removing and resisting certain monuments, but questioned the solutions that have been presented so far. For her, empty plinths are temporary solutions at best and though museums have the opportunity for education and research, why should they be expected to take fallen public symbols? She noted that museums themselves can also act as monuments through memorializing. Therefore, museums have an important role to play in the writing of monuments. She pointed to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the memorial-qua-museum in Birmingham, Alabama, and the work of “saying names.” Such acknowledgement is crucial in writing, and continues through the Equal Justice Initiative’s online presence. The saying of names continues in the calendars they produced, which document the histories of racial injustice in the United States, thus memorializing and cementing this history while anchoring it in the present and future.

Panel 2: Cityscapes

16Heather Shirey and David Todd Lawrence (University of St. Thomas) began panel 2 with their talk entitled “Monumental Blackness: Black Lives Matter Street Mural and the Commemoration of the 2020 Uprising.” Their talk centered on the interconnectivity between street art and the Black Lives Matter movement by providing the examples of the street art in Washington (DC), Salt Lake City (UT), Oakland (CA), New York City, Seattle (WA) and Evanston (IL). They defined street art as broadly including murals, art on street pavement and defacement of pigmentation. They argued that murals are monumental, and that their purpose is to disrupt space and can be seen collectively. Murals resist power and use visual language. While street art has been seen across the country, the art in Washington (DC) provides an example of the city supporting the movement, which is not always the case. The conversation that ensued after the presentation revealed the relationship between perspective, capitalism and street art, as the BLM street art was and is best seen from above, which in the case of the art in New York City, would be on upper floors of high rises in New York’s Upper West Side, which begs the question: Who is the intended audience?

17Erica Schneider (Framingham State University) continued with her talk “From Emancipation to Embrace: Decolonizing Boston’s Public Monuments.” Schneider framed her talk within the nuanced narrative seen in Boston, representative of the relationship between space and reparation efforts. Boston, described by Schneider as an abolitionist hub, was home to artist Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller’s piece Emancipation, which was created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Described by Schneider as allegorical, Emancipation has been overlooked throughout the years partly due to its nudity component, which at the time was not well-received. Schneider then turned to Harriet Tubman Square, located in the South End neighborhood of Boston, previously named Columbus Square, a space which was revitalized, repurposed and redesigned, and now includes Fuller’s Emancipation. Schneider’s third and final example of Boston’s nuanced landscape turned to the Embrace by sculptor Hank Willis Thomas, located in the Boston Common. Although the sculpture has been praised by many, ultimately it was Fuller who paved the way for Boston’s nuanced monument landscape, speaking to the need for patience and longevity in current memorial discourse and counter-monument efforts.

18Last in Panel 2 was Sarah Moore (University of Arizona), with her presentation “Slow Death in Trees: Maya Lin’s ‘Ghost Forest’ 2021.” Moore’s interpretation of Lin’s monument in Ghost Forest included the creation of Lin’s installment with Covid and how New York was in a sense abandoned. Moore asked the audience “How do we talk about absence?” Unlike nineteenth-century monuments, there is a continued bond between the living and dead in Ghost Forest. Moore described Ghost Forest as haunting, and that the trees appeared as ghosts, which were “less than dead,” and the future is pointedly absent, which is at the heart of Lin’s installation. Moore addressed grief at the heart of the forest, which is resistant to reconciliation, and as a result, grief is political, because it is an agent of change. Moore interpreted the installation as shared vulnerability as a result of collective mourning and collective interdependability. Moore’s interpretation proved eye-opening to the audience, particularly to New York locals who had not previously made the connection between Covid and Lin’s Ghost Forest. Moore concluded that the forest is to be viewed as “words we don’t have,” an ironic sentiment in a society where words and sound permeate everything.

Panel 3: Pedagogy and Practice

19The third and final panel of the day was titled “Pedagogy and Practice,” placing the conversations of the weekend into the real world. To begin with, Peter Cole (Western Illinois University) discussed his own social practice in Chicago. His work focuses on a specific moment of racial violence in Chicago in 1919. That year, there was a massive race riot in response to southern migrants moving to Chicago following World War I. There was a growing white backlash to this, characterized by massive amounts of racism and racist violence, with no police action taken against it. The riots mentioned by Cole began with the murder of Eugene Williams, killed while swimming in Lake Michigan, and the resulting backlash due to the lack of arrest of attacker. This developed into widespread race riots in which hundreds of white people were literally looking for Black people to attack in the city. Following 1919, racism and segregation worked to expand the city of Chicago, as the real estate board made restrictive covenants on neighborhoods in addition to the practices of redlining and disinvestment. Urban renewal to accommodate the car further disperses the city, with the new highway system acting as border walls of segregation. Amidst this history, communities are now ready for change. In Chicago, there is a widespread activist program that is urging conversations and changes that revolve around the remembrance of the past. To this end, Peter Cole asked: how can Chicago learn from Germany? Inspired by the Stolpersteine project throughout Europe, Cole set out to create a project that would serve a similar purpose for the memorialization of racial violence in Chicago. Called The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 Commemoration Project, its goal is to acknowledge the horrors of the past alongside the inequities of today. This is achieved through giving tours and art studio work. Historic bike tours facilitate the visualization and revelation of segregation. While money received by the project goes into a reparation fund, it also goes toward their ongoing collaboration with Project FIRE. Through this organization, which provides a safe creative outlet for youth impacted by violence and trauma, the CRR19 Commemoration Project is making markers for all of the people that have been killed by racial violence in Chicago. These markers, made of glass bricks, will be implanted in the sidewalks at the sites of violence.

20Lauren Erin Brown (Marymount Manhattan College) discussed her own pedagogical practice in teaching about monuments and memorials. As a professor at Marymount Manhattan College, she used New York City as a case study for the potentialities of removal, asking students to understand how removal itself can preserve history. First, this practice began as a part of her own research, documenting removals as a way to normalize change and develop new, generative thinking on monumentality. Ultimately, she developed a course called “Monumental Debates” as a way to understand how to use historical training to encourage creative problem solving. After having students sit in on meetings and conduct site visits, the course resulted in the students completing a proposal for a public art project. She asked the students to use historical research and case studies to either propose the keeping of a monument or the building of a new one, and then use VR to realize these. The use of VR was motivated by the Kinfolk Foundation’s mobile app, developed to put monumentality into people’s hands. In addition to choosing a new monument, users are also given a mini history lesson on their subject, though Brown found that students were actually quite skeptical of VR’s potential. They wanted real monuments, not virtual ones. An important aspect of this course was allowing students to dream through their assignments and to assert their own agency within discussions about public space. For Brown, history is a method to understand change, and this course was a way to develop that understanding. This challenges the prevailing view of history as a factual timeline, enforced by studies that show that at no juncture have 13 percent of students been proficient in history. This, of course, is largely an issue of legislation against curriculum, and there is a need to understand that this is not just a Southern problem, but an American problem. The pedagogical approach shown by “Monumental Debates” confronts this, bridging the gap between fact and function.

21Following Brown’s detailing of her pedagogy, Francis V. Gourrier, Jr. (Kenyon College) discussed his approach to teaching Jim Crow and the display of the most infamous form of Jim Crow: lynchings. Throughout this era, 4,500 people were lynched, including in public spectacle lynchings, which were carnival-like events featuring food, postcards, and then the spectators collected body parts as souvenirs. As a Black man from Louisiana now teaching at Kenyon College in Ohio, Gourrier wanted to be sure that his students know that that was not a Southern problem. For that reason, Gourrier keyed into the story of Henry Howard, who was lynched in Coshocton, Ohio. But how does one teach this properly? He identified three modes of teaching the history of lynching: photographs, historical markers, and steel slabs (as in the aforementioned National Memorial for Peace and Justice). Photography is the most successful according to Gourrier, because of its immediacy. However, from the spring of 2018 to the spring of 2023, an important difference arose in teaching lynchings. In 2018, students expressed hurt upon seeing the images but nonetheless wanted to confront and discuss the history that they represent. Now students balk at the images, because of the connections and exhaustion that stems from the inundation of Black death in the media. This brought about a need for change in consideration of an exhibit-in-progress called “Jim Crow Ohio,” one that sought to bridge the gap between exhibit and memorial. Though far above the Mason-Dixon line, systemic racism took the same contours of Jim Crow in the South, a reflection of the nation’s character as a whole. The exhibition, curated by Gourrier in the Chalmers Library on the Kenyon campus, was going to have actual pictures of lynchings. Ultimately, he decided to include the image of Henry Howard to combat the view of the American Midwest as exclusively white and pastorally beautiful. To contextualize the photograph within the exhibition, he included re-photographs of lynching sites—a photographic method that revisits places of historic imagery in the present. Gourrier still warns that while more abstract or neutral representations can complement representations of lynchings, it is important not to whitewash histories that make us uncomfortable, as there is a violence in erasure that mirrors the initial violence of lynching and expulsion. Moreover, the question of justice is at the center of most projects of memorialization—photography does not let the perpetrators remain faceless.

22Professor Erika Doss (University of Texas, Dallas) closed the final day of panels and asked in her keynote address: How do we manage our feelings in material and visual forms? Affect is at the center of memorial projects, as well as heated debates of representation and self-definition. Still, the statue mania of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that produced the forms at the center of such affect was not meant to revive other memorials and debates, but to put them to rest. Great men made the nation stronger, and memorializing them was part of the real urge to create conformity and consensus at that time. The more contemporary memorial mania, however, is less convinced by seamless narratives. Conflict, rupture, and loss define today’s memorials, driven by shattered myths of American national identity. To this end, what is historical? Who is historically significant? Our thoughts about memory are inherently presentist, and history is what the present chooses to remember about the past. Much of today’s memory work that separates present memorialization is the ethical imperative to remember those forgotten—an accepting of old narratives through the establishment of new narratives. This emphasis on linking past with present is at the center of the new emotionally charged forms of public art. Indeed, what Doss coined as “memorial mania” is alive and well, but it has changed. Purposely impermanent memorials provide “something more joyful” accompanied by explanations as to why those previous subjects were marginalized, all the while troubling other commemorative projects. For Doss, this serves as a reminder that monuments are mortal and so powerfully symbolic that someone acquires a vested interest in destroying it. Therefore, one of the most meaningful aspects of a monument’s existence is the fact that they are vulnerable to the same conditions as all bodies. Sometimes they become reused, as in Kai Lumumba Barrow’s Abolition Playground (2023), but failed monuments are shameful, not triumphant. This should be felt and understood, put forward as a new way to deal with monuments. After all, what is more affective than removal and ruin? The destruction of symbolic capitals allows for felt experience. What would it mean to reimagine monuments in the United States as ruins and allow them to decay? As she reminded us, while monuments live, they also die. Maybe we should let them.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Hilary Meuter et Noah Randolph, « International conference: “New Monuments: Iconoclasm, Reenactments, and Alternative Commemorations in the United States since 2000” »Transatlantica [En ligne], 1 | 2024, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2024, consulté le 12 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Hilary Meuter

Technische Universität Dortmund (Germany)

Noah Randolph

Temple University (USA)

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search