Artist is Creating a Parthenon Made of 100,000 Banned Books: A Monument to Democracy & Intellectual Freedom

With the rise of Far Right can­di­dates in Europe and in Amer­i­ca, along with creep­ing dic­ta­tor­ship in Turkey and author­i­tar­i­an­ism in the Philip­pines, the idea of democ­ra­cy and free­dom of speech feels under threat more than ever. While we don’t talk about polit­i­cal solu­tions here on Open Cul­ture, we do believe in the pow­er of art to illu­mi­nate.

Argen­tine artist Mar­ta Min­u­jín is cre­at­ing a large-scale art­work called The Parthenon of Books that will be con­struct­ed on Friedrich­splatz in Kas­sel, Ger­many, and will be con­struct­ed from as many as 100,000 banned books from all over the world.

The loca­tion has been cho­sen for its his­tor­i­cal impor­tance. In 1933, the Nazis burned two-thou­sand books there dur­ing the so-called “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist” (Cam­paign against the Un-Ger­man Spir­it), destroy­ing books by Com­mu­nists, Jews, and paci­fists, along with any oth­ers deemed un-Ger­man.

Min­u­jín chose the Parthenon—one of the great struc­tures of Ancient Greece—for its con­tin­u­ing sym­bol­ism of the endur­ing pow­er of democ­ra­cy through­out the ages.

When it comes to mate­ri­als, she using a list of 100,000 books that have been, or still are, banned in coun­tries across the world, going all the way back to the year 1500. You can browse that list here, but for less eye-strain, try this short­er list of 170 or so titles. New titles can be sug­gest­ed for the project here.

Some of the books that have been banned over the years include Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Lit­tle Prince (banned in Argenti­na), Lewis Car­rol­l’s Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land (banned in Chi­na), and Nor­man Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (banned in Cana­da).

Min­u­jín con­struct­ed a sim­i­lar Parthenon in 1983 after the fall of her country’s dic­ta­tor­ship. The orig­i­nal El Partenón de libros fea­tured the books that the for­mer gov­ern­ment had banned, and, at the end of the instal­la­tion, Min­u­jín let the pub­lic take what they want­ed home. (She will be allow­ing the same thing to hap­pen this time.)

Her peo­ple, as she says in the video above, didn’t know what democ­ra­cy was after years of mil­i­tary rule. We might be on the oppo­site side of the spec­trum: we won’t know what democ­ra­cy is until we lose it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

It’s Banned Books Week: Lis­ten to Allen Gins­berg Read His Famous­ly Banned Poem, “Howl,” in San Fran­cis­co, 1956

John Waters Reads Steamy Scene from Lady Chatterley’s Lover for Banned Books Week (NSFW)
Read 14 Great Banned & Cen­sored Nov­els Free Online: For Banned Books Week 2014

The Cov­er of George Orwell’s 1984 Becomes Less Cen­sored with Wear and Tear

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (5)
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  • E says:

    Ya lo hizo (hace muchos años) Mar­ta Min­u­jin en Argenti­na.

  • Aqif says:

    You’re so right about the free­dom of speech. After the shut­down of Ann Coul­ter’s speech at Berke­ley, i think the Red Ter­ror is already here

  • Andreas from Athens says:

    It is very rude to wear sun­glass­es when you talk to any­one, espe­cial­ly if not in the sun­shine

  • GM says:

    She does not tol­er­ate light in her eyes. Don’t be an ass­hole Andreas.


    Esta sra. jun­to a una pequeña corte de los mila­gros que la apoya con los ojos cer­ra­dos has­ta cuan­do estor­nu­da, es una mist­i­fi­cado­ra que hace rato bus­car engañar a los incau­tos con propósi­tos mer­can­tiles dis­fraza­dos de rebeldía y mod­ernidad, inten­tan­do hac­er pasar su basura por arte. En Buenos Aires cada vez son menos los giles que la con­sid­er­an.

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