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Monuments, Museums and Murals: Preservation, Commemoration and American Identity
May 15 @ 8:00 am - May 18 @ 5:00 pm
Commemorating the Past, Healing the Present, Working for the Future:
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama
In April 2018, a new milestone in the presentation of American cultural heritage opened in Montgomery, Alabama: The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, founded by the non-profit organization Equal Justice Initiative. In a memorial landscape widely dominated by the heritage of the Confederacy in the American South, this memorial sticks out: both by its clear intention to confront the destructive legacy of almost 4,400 lynchings which took place in the United States between 1877 and 1950, and by its exceptional design and pedagogical concept.
The memorial consists of two parts. The first is permanently installed in an open-sided pavilion on a hill overlooking downtown Montgomery. More than 800-stele, one for each county where a lynching took place, remember the victims. The standing six-foot-tall rusted steles recall graveyard headstones; but, some of them gradually lift from the ground, evoking the sight of hanging bodies. While the memorial aesthetics are powerful, the interactive component is most striking: outside the pavilion, duplicates are waiting to be claimed by the counties where the lynching took place, which envisions a commemoration process yet to come. Thus, this memorial is directed towards the past, the present and the future – as it incorporates a vision of a more inclusive and just national identity based on the acknowledgment of its history of racial violence and injustice.
While this memorial is stylistically clearly influenced by Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust Memorial in Berlin (2005), it shares above all conceptual similarities with Gunther Demnig’s Stumbling Blocks. Demnig’s small markers in the pavement are more modest in size than the stele in Alabama but since its start in the 1990s it has developed into the most widespread European memorial commemorating Nazi victims. Both memorials follow the same impetus: coming to terms with a shameful past needs active involvement from interested citizens and public manifestations. In our presentation, we will embed the memorial in the spatial memorial context of Alabama and the American memorial tradition, analyse its design and discuss its pedagogical concept critically by using Anja Piontek’s Museum und Partizipation (2017).
Dr. Laura A. Macaluso researches and writes about murals, monuments, material culture and museums. In 2018, her published work includes The Public Artscape of New Haven, Themes in the Creation of a City Image and “Public Art Inside & Outside the Museum” in The State of Museums: Voices from the Field. For more information, please see: lauramacaluso.com. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Tanja Schult is an Associate Professor at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University. She has published widely on the monument genre, and how it renegotiates questions of identity and participation. For further information, please see: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tanja-schult-33697688/. Contact: email@example.com.