Conference Memories – Memorials – Memorializations

Memories-Memorials-Memorializations © Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan © Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan

Monday, 13-Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi

3 Kasturba Gandhi Marg
110001 New Delhi

The Politics of Remembering and Forgetting

Armed conflicts, political and genocidal violence have shaped to a great extent how we remember the twentieth century. While, both the First and Second World Wars left the world in disarray and turmoil, the Holocaust, a crime unprecedented in history, called into question many existing ways of commemorating the past, of addressing, framing and memorializing violence, its victims and material legacies. This pertained also to the traditional form of monument, which glorified military victories, national myths or heroic political figures. Especially in Germany, the need to confront the country’s legacy of violence has resulted in an exploration of the potential of art to foster critical remembering – one engaged with ‘negative memory’ and carrying a deep sense of guilt, shame and remorse.

Numerous art works and installations emerged in the 1980s and 1990s to give rise to a new form of commemorative monument – the counter-monument. Considered as much ethical and political as aesthetic practice, the counter-monument deliberately subverted the genre of hero monument to address the issues of loss but also of culpability, and accountability in the aftermath of political violence. Many artists contributed significantly to its development. With Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the heart of the German capital, Berlin, this development reached its peak: the counter-monument became part of the mainstream politics of memorialization. Not only in Germany but also throughout Europe and beyond, the counter-monumental aesthetic has now assumed a dominant position in memorial projects focusing on the Holocaust and other instances of political violence. In this way – caught in contemporary ‘memory boom’ – the counter-monument also lost much of its critical potential. It is against this backdrop that this conference asks about present day artistic, civic, and conceptual engagements with political violence and their potential to foster critical remembering – and, equally important, critical forgetting.

Our intention is to look at memorial practices, both in Europe and beyond, that in various ways take on the counter-monumental project, traverse or radicalize it, in a search for new means of addressing, framing and memorializing violence. It is, nevertheless, not only the question of how to remember political violence that is of interest; the growing criticism of the ‘memory boom’, its contribution to ‘memory fatigue’ and apparent inability to tame or prevent new instances of violence from happening, bring to the fore new questions pertaining to the benefits and risks of remembering and forgetting. Why and what should we remember, why and what should we forget? Would it not be better to simply skim over the gruesome past and focus on the present or the future? Does the constant reminder of the collective (national) guilt and shame not keep resentment and anger alive? Or, on the contrary, does the focus on victimhood not lead to depoliticization of accounts of violence, to hierarchization of suffering and its different valuation, inviting competing claims over the right to ‘be remembered’? 

Initiated by Farah Batool and Leonhard Emmerling of the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, the conference, curated by Zuzanna Dziuban (University of Amsterdam) brings together scholars, academics and artists, who take divergent stances on the question of remembering and forgetting, and address it from different conceptual, cultural, geographical and political perspectives. The conference will be held at the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, from November 13 through November 15, 2017. It will consist of a series of talks, panel discussions and film screenings.

This mediation will be followed by another conference on Trauma & Reconciliation in March 2018.