It is in this section of Memory, History, and Memorials that all three of the critical terms in our unit’s title come together.
The process of creating monuments and memorials can be a battleground where competing perceptions and profoundly different memories struggle to control the interpretation of history.
"Vietnam War Memorial"
A monument or memorial serves as a selective lens on the past. It cannot tell the whole story, but then what part of the story, or whose story, does it tell? Whose memories, whose point of view, whose values and perspectives assume the role of presenting and interpreting the past for future generations? An important parallel question arises: what point of view or part of the story was left out, and why? How does that sorting out take place?
We are picking up a thread here that appeared in Traditional Monuments, where we raised the issue of whether all monuments were “value-laden” and judgmental by nature. We will pursue that question further by investigating the conflicts and battlegrounds that surrounded three examples: the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., Rodin’s Burghers of Calais in France, and the countless statues of Stalin in the Eastern Block of the former Soviet Union.
Maya Lin’s plan for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was intensely controversial and ultimately could not have been built without a compromise that added a separate and antithetical statue to the site. Two competing visions of the Vietnam War sit in close proximity. What divergent values and historical interpretations do they convey?
As a result of Rodin’s interpretation of six of their forefathers facing death as English hostages in the 13th century, the burghers of Calais could not bring themselves to move his statue, completed in 1895, to its originally designated, prominent spot in the town square until 1925. In what ways was Rodin’s artistic vision in conflict with the town’s heroic ideal of civic virtue?
What role do the Rodins and Maya Lins play in the struggle over competing perceptions and memories? Can artists and architects transform memorialization?
The statues of Stalin in the former Eastern Block countries add a new line of inquiry. What happens when the process for creating monuments and memorials is completely controlled by a totalitarian state? When does memorialization become propaganda? What happens to the memorials when such a totalitarian state collapses?