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Counter Memories Key Visual© Goethe-Institut


In the United States, 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 investigates 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 Goethe Pop Up Kansas City, the Thomas Mann House, and Onassis LA convene artists, activists, and intellectuals for illustrated virtual conversations around historical memory.

Counter-Memories on YouTube

The next episode with author Maaza Mengiste and guests will focus on a monument in Italy and will appear on the Counter-Memories  YouTube Channel. More information on the new episode and release date coming soon.

Counter-Memories: Viet Thanh Nguyen & Drew Faust | Washington, D.C. © VATMH e.V.

Washington, D.C.
Episode 7 - Viet Thanh Nguyen & Drew Faust | Washington, D.C.

Vietnamese-American novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen and historian Drew Faust engage in a conversation about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. – a black granite wall engraved with the names of Americans who died in the Vietnam War, often cited among the most highly controversial armed conflicts in United States history. Departing from this specific monument, Faust and Ngyuen ask: Do war monuments not only commemorate but also victimize certain groups?

Counter-Memories Episode 6 – Ada Pinkston & Angela N. Carroll | Baltimore © VATMH e. V.

Episode 6 – Ada Pinkston & Angela N. Carroll

The Green Book was established by African-Americans in search of spaces for freedom of movement against a backdrop of white supremacist Jim Crowe policies throughout the U.S. When the Green Book was most circulated, Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland was an energetic hub of African-American arts, culture and entertainment. Artists Ada Pinkston and Angela N Carroll examine the contrast between the cultural vibrancy of this past moment and the lack of resources of this present day.

Episode 5 – Susan Neiman & Paul Holdengräber| Berlin © VATMH e. V.

Episode 5 – Susan Neiman & Paul Holdengräber

Philosopher Susan Neiman, director of the Einstein Forum, joins Paul Holdengräber for a conversation about the Soviet Memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park. The monument was erected in 1949 in memory of the thirteen million fallen soldiers of the Soviet Union who gave their lives fighting fascism. On the anniversary of the end of World War II, people commemorate their fallen loved ones there. But despite its monumental size, it has little presence in the collective consciousness of the German capital.

Episode 4 – Veka Duncan & Elianna Kan| Mexico City © VATMH e. V.

Mexico City
Episode 4 – Veka Duncan & Elianna Kan

The art historian Veka Duncan and author Elianna Kan discuss the Tlatelolco district in Mexico City. After the severe earthquake in 1985, the residents erected a sundial to commemorate the victims. The history of Tlatelolco resembles a palimpsest: historical events have left their traces, and in turn have been covered over by other events but never completely obliterated. Their conversation revolves around collective memory, the appropriation of public space and public remembrance beyond state intervention.

Episode 3 – Mischa Kuball & Paul Holdengräber| Stommeln © VATMH e. V.

Episode 3 – Mischa Kuball & Paul Holdengräber

The synagogue in Stommeln is one of the few places of public Jewish life in Germany that was not destroyed during the 1938 pogroms. In order to create a new perception and attention among the population, the conceptual artist and professor of public art Mischa Kuball illuminated the synagogue over a period of eight weeks. In a conversation with curator Paul Holdengräber, he takes us to the synagogue and tells us the almost forgotten history of this special place.

Episode 2 – Glenn North, Staci Pratt & Amira El Ahl | Kansas City © VATMH e. V.

Kansas City
Episode 2 – Glenn North, Staci Pratt & Amira El Ahl

This episode focuses on the Levi Harrington Memorial Marker in Kansas City. Harrington was the victim of a racial terror lynching in Kansas City in 1882. To this day, efforts to create a memorial for him are met with denial and vandalism. Poet and activist Glenn North, Staci Pratt (Equal Justice Initiative, Community Remembrance Project of Missouri) and journalist Amira El Ahl discuss how to rectify a lack of recognition of lynching and racial conflict in Missouri.

Episode 1 – Paul Holdengräber & Joel Garcia | Los Angeles © VATMH e. V.

Los Angeles
Episode 1 – Paul Holdengräber & Joel Garcia

The series started on “Indigenous People's Day,” a holiday that is meant to commemorate the history of Native Americans. Curator Paul Holdengräber talked with artist Joel Garcia about the Serra statue in Los Angeles. A statue in honor of Juniper Serra, who was instrumental in building the California mission system during the Spanish colonization. The statue was removed by activists in June 2020.  

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