An art festival in Germany used the memory of Nazi censorship and book burning to convey strongly the message of free circulation of ideas and knowledge.
The 14th edition of the Documenta art exhibition, hosted in Kassel, Germany, features a scaffold replica of the Parthenon in Athens. It is made of books that have been banned in different parts of the world.
This installation is meant to be symbolic of opposition to the politically motivated censorship and persecution of writers, and the banning of their works. The artist behind the project, Martha Minujin, described the Parthenon as being representative of the “aesthetic and political ideals of the world’s first democracy”.
The location of the installation strengthens the statement that the artist seeks to make with this project. The Parthenon of banned books has been constructed behind the Fridericianum museum, where the Nazis burned close to 2,000 books that embodied an ‘Un-German Spirit’ in 1933. The Documenta festival too was birthed in 1955 to attempt to undo the damage that the horrific years of Nazi censorship had done to modern art in Germany.
Martha Minujin teamed up with a group of professors and students from the University of Kassel to prepare a list of 70,000 books that are either being re-printed now after having been banned for a long time, or books that were read freely in some parts of the world, while being banned in others. This list included Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Minujin then sent out a request to the whole world to contribute copies of the books on the list for the installation. The artist received 100,000 copies of these books, which have now been covered in plastic and placed within the metal scaffold that replicates the Parthenon. The books are placed such that their titles are visible, because the aim of the installation is to motivate people to read these books.
The Parthenon at Kassel follows a similar installation titled El Partenón de libros, which Martha Minujin displayed in after the fall of the military junta in her home-country, Argentina, in 1983. This structure featured books that the junta government had banned in its tenure. After a five-day display, cranes were used to tip the structure over. Viewers were encouraged to take the books that spilled out of the structure back home, to give the once banned ideas a new life.
The Parthenon at Kassel will continue to be on display till September 17th. 2017. Following this, the books in the Parthenon will be used in a manner similar to the ones in the El Partenón de libros.