Next year, Argentinian conceptual artist Marta Minujin has plans to construct a massive installation in order to promote intellectual freedom and to protest literary censorship in Germany and around the world. The project is part of documenta 14, a series of contemporary art exhibitions held every five years. The art installation will take the form of a replica of the Parthenon – built almost entirely of 100,000 banned books!
The Parthenon was erected in 438 BC in Athens, the ancient Greek state known for the democratic principles that became the foundation for western civilization. To this day, the Parthenon is still a symbol of democracy. To build a Parthenon out of banned books is, therefore, a powerful message about the freedom to read and teach books rather than banning them from libraries and classrooms.
Marta Minujin’s first “Parthenon of Books” was put on display in Buenos Aires in 1983. The full-scale replica of the Parthenon made from 20,000 books was built in celebration of the dismantling of Argentina’s oppressive junta, which had been responsible for several large-scale book burnings, including the unthinkable destruction of 1.5 million books in 1980. The installation lasted for three weeks before it was disassembled and the public was allowed to take the books home with them.
Next year’s installation will be constructed in Friedrichsplatz Park in Kassel, Germany, a particularly symbolic place to build a tribute toward intellectual freedom. On May 19, 1933, the Nazi party and the German Student Union burned thousands of books in Friedrichsplatz Park, part of a series of book burnings all over Germany, the most iconic and chilling act of literary censorship in history. The books burned included writings by Jewish authors, philosophical treatises, and books with ideologies considered incompatible with Nazism.
The artist, in partnership with documenta 14, is calling for donations of frequently challenged books to contribute to this massive project and symbol of intellectual freedom. The installation will be left standing for a full 100 days before it is dismantled and the banned books passed out to visitors.
This is an issue that hits close to home. In my rural high school, the school board elected to remove the Chicano coming-of-age story Bless Me, Ultima from the sophomore required reading list because of instances of “profanity,” despite protests from teachers, parents, the ACLU, and the author. Despite the fact that the book was an indispensable piece of heritage for the school’s large population of Hispanic students.
That’s why I’ll be sending my well-worn copy of Bless Me Ultima to be part of the art installation.
I leave you with Rudolfo Anaya’s response to the school board’s ruling:
“What are these people afraid of? We have ample evidence throughout history of what happens when we start banning books, when we are afraid of ideas and discussion and analytical thinking. The society will suffer.”
YouTube Channel: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Featured image via Smithsonian Magazine