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Shaping the Past / Gestaltung der Vergangenheit

How does the past take shape, and what happens in the process of coming to terms with the past? What social repercussions are associated with the rooting of history in monuments and memorials? How can those narratives be shifted or upended through alternative, innovative approaches to memorialization?  

These questions are at the center of Shaping the Past, a partnership between Monument Lab, the Goethe-Institut, and the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung/bpb). 
More on this project

But as surely as the future becomes the past, the past becomes the future

Ursula K. Le Guin


Karen Tam, detail image of the work - stones © Karen Tam

Exhibition | From Thursday, July 15 to Saturday, September 25, 2021 | Never Apart
S'inscrire dans le présent - Inscribing in the Present

An exhibition in dialogue with Shaping the Past

Exhibition of local artists curated by Diane Gistal, founder of Nigra Iuventa in dialogue with Shaping the Past, curated by Monument Lab, presented in collaboration with Never Apart.

Artists presented in the exhibition:
Karen Tam
Moridja Kitenge Banza 

Despite their different backgrounds, the two artists enter into a remarkable dialogue and perform an act that is as poetic as it is political: they inscribe their past in our present, reminding us that history can also be carried by those who commemorate it.
Exhibition at Never Apart, open from July 15 to September 25, 2021.

Virtual opening of the exhibition on July 15, 2021.
The exhibition is open for visits from July 17, 2021 on.

Visit free of charge. Please see the protocol for a safe visit on the website of Never Apart.

Shaping the Past: Black Digital Futures | Virtual Walking Tour + Talk with Quentin VerCetty © Quentin VerCetty

Virtual walking tour - Toronto
Black Digital Futures

The multidisciplinary Canadian artist Quentin VerCetty invites you to follow him on a virtual walking tour, reimagining Toronto's monuments by foregrounding neglected Black biographies and exploring Black digital futures. VerCetty will share his walk around downtown Toronto with the audience, present biograhical shorts of Black leaders, host a live conversation with artist-mentor Ken Lum and a Q&A with the audience. 

Missing Black Technofossil Here © Quentin Vercetty

Virtual walking tour - Montreal
Missing Black Technofossil Here

Missing Black Technofossil Here is a public space intervention and conversation proposed by multidisciplinary Canadian artist and Monument Lab fellow Quentin VerCetty. Featuring a performance by multidisciplinary artist Laurie Rose Dauphine, as well as an introduction by Paul Farber, Director of the Monument Lab in Philadelphia.

Reflections on Dreaming and Black and Indigenous Futures © Alisha Wormsley

Artist Talk - Online
Reflections on Dreaming and Black and Indigenous Futures

Monument Lab fellow Alisha Wormsley and multi-disciplinary artist Suzanne Kite have introduced the public to their practice of collective community dreaming as a means to shape the past by daring to sculpt the future. 

The artist talk was moderated by Aline Baiana. 

Online Exhibition

Shaping the Past Exhibition Banner

Exhibition "Shaping the Past"

The exhibition Shaping the Past features works by artists, activists, and collectives from North America and Germany which illuminate ongoing memory interventions, reimagine civil society, and offer reparative models that actively shape the past and our paths forward.​ More ...


Counter memories Key
© Goethe-Institut

In Canada, the US, Germany, and throughout the world, citizens are questioning conventional historical narratives and reflecting on the meanings and implications of public monuments. Recent protests and interventions around statues of Confederate generals and figures such as Columbus and Bismarck reflect a yearning to correct and critically re-examine dominant histories and their ongoing legacies in the present.

The conversation series Counter-Memories will investigate a number of international monuments and places of remembrance whose symbolic significance often reveals a great deal about our relationship to history. The Goethe-Institutes in North America, the Thomas Mann House, and Onassis LA will convene artists, activists, and intellectuals for illustrated virtual conversations around historical memory.

​Counter-Memories is a cooperation between the Goethe-Institutes North-America, the Onassis Foundation Los Angeles and the Thomas Mann House in collaboration with the project Shaping the Past.  

See the conversations here


The simple phrase of “Never Again!” still calls for people all over the world to learn from history.

Anna Delius

Black Lives Matter Zaun © Various artists, Photo: Mike Macguire

Shaping the Past - Artbits Edition

Street art makes an important contribution to social discourse through the mostly unauthorized use of public spaces as canvases for artistic, political and social discussions. She participates in the discussion about memory culture and comments on it in  various ways. The Artbits team went on a search and found a couple of great examples - in Mexico, New York and Washington D.C.!

Our Fellows

The fellows for Shaping the Past come from Monument Lab's 2019 and 2020 fellowship cohorts and were selected from an applications pool of over 100 memory workers throughout North America and Germany with existing projects using art, activism, history, journalism, and other tools to approach monuments in their communities. Applications were reviewed by a jury representing the fields of art, history, and social engagement, who recommended applicants who demonstrated excellence, innovative processes and projects for public engagement.


Shaping the Past is produced in partnership with the Goethe-Institut, Monument Lab, and the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Agency for Civic Education).

Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung Monument Lab Logo