Special Issue: Contemporary Approaches to Monuments in Central and Eastern Europe

Introduction to Special Issue

What new practices of commemoration, and what new kinds of memory, do contemporary monuments make possible? What can contemporary art do to help us remember, and what does it mean to make a monument in today’s conditions? This Special Issue highlights a broad range of contemporary practices devoted to alternative forms of commemoration and the problems posed by monumentality within present-day Central and Eastern Europe and its diaspora. Such practices include documentary projects, performances, and interventions that occupy the post-socialist public sphere, as well as works that explore the fraught legacies of socialist-era monuments and subsequent histories of trauma within the region.

Much has been written about the monumental art forms of the communist propaganda machine and their eventual destruction in the sweeping political changes of 1989, images of which remain imprinted within the collective memory of both the East and the West as “symbols of its Cold War ideological rival.” (Edit Andras, “Public Monuments in Changing Societies,” ARS 43, 2010, 1, p. 42. Accessed via Academia.edu on October 28, 2021: http://www.academia.edu/4241227/Public_Monuments_in_Changing_Societies.) However, limited focus has been given to the construction of new monuments and memorial projects in Central and Eastern Europe that respond to the region’s ever shifting political landscape, from post-Wall democracy to civil war to today’s right-wing nationalisms. The artists and scholars who contribute to this issue reframe the politics of memory in a series of case studies devoted to contemporary monuments that represent these complex, problematic histories through commemorative forms and symbolic actions that are often fleeting (the anti-monument), collective and participatory (anti-heroic), or expand what or who is commemorated (the counter-monument), including women, victims of war and genocide, immigrants, and refugees.

Through the lens of feminism, memory politics, and cultural identity, our contributors analyze new kinds of memorials that give form and meaning to absence and loss, and that create spaces for public engagement and collective healing. Many of these contributions are interviews, privileging the voices of artists, researchers, and critics who are shaping the new landscape of monuments and public space in Southeastern, Eastern and Central Europe and its diaspora, each with its own set of social conflicts and spatial conditions. As current debates around monuments are taking place in the United States, in Western Europe, and across the formerly colonized world – where problematic statues (confederate, colonial, racist, sexist) are being toppled, cloaked, or removed from public view – this Special Issue widens the cultural discourse on monumentality. It turns attention to a region that broadly possesses a shared history of socialist rule, but that has also long been a zone of migration, of shifting borders, and of conflicting histories. This collection of texts offers a diverse spectrum of artistic responses to commemoration and cultural memory, showing how artists and critics continue to explore new ways of keeping history alive.

The articles in this issue will be released over the next four months. You can find links to these articles below:

ARTMargins Online Editorial Collective