Examples of Contemporary Memorials and Monuments

Our contemporary lives are dominated by a public culture characterized by intense engagement and public feeling.  As curator Gary Garrels wrote:  “…There has been a movement toward art which invites active participation, which becomes a functional part of the environment, and which claims purposes inclusive of, but not limited to, aesthetic or formal issues.”

Today, memorials serve a variety of functions.  Among them:

  • To heal, offer comfort, provide a space for reflection
  • To honor a legacy, remember or remind
  • To educate, raise awareness, focus attention
  • To express a value
  • To prompt a call of action

Some examples include:

Various Locations, USA
The Names Project Foundation

The AIDS Memorial Quilt acts as a living memorial through its transient nature and public collaboration.  Each quilt square is unique: a personal tribute to someone who has lost her/his life to AIDS, and each is crafted by someone different.  The quilt travels and is exhibited at various sites across the USA.  When installed, it provides a place for visitors to pay tribute to those honored in the quilt squares, a sort of informal programming of activities for visitors.

Various Locations, Rwanda
Barefoot Artists

The Rwanda Healing Project acts as a living memorial through its multi- multi-faceted programming which deals with the grief of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda through offerings of education, development, and hope for life in the future.  The Project takes various forms in multiple locations:  a Genocide Memorial Park,  in Rugerero Survivors Village, a goat project and creative making in Twa Village,  a documentary film, and a photography exhibit.

Berlin, Germany
Peter Eisenman

 According to Eisenman’s project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. A 2005 copy of the Foundation for the Memorial’s official English tourist pamphlet, however, states that the design represents a radical approach to the traditional concept of a memorial, partly because Eisenman did not use any symbolism. However, observers have noted the memorial’s resemblance to a cemetery.  In either case, this memorial immerses the viewer into a prescribed environment, causing rumination on the meaning of the stelae and those who died in the Holocaust while journeying through the memorial to the freedom of its edges, knowing that those being memorialized did not have that same opportunity.

New York City, USA (STATUE)
Alison Saar

The Harriet Tubman Memorial takes two forms, in two locations. ” The sculpture of the freedom fighter in Harlem is rife with symbolism. As Tubman strides forward the “roots of slavery” weigh her down; her skirt features images that represent passengers on the railroad, some inspired by West African “passport masks”; the icons around the base of the memorial alternately reference moments in the abolitionist’s life and traditional quilt symbols.” – artsobserver.com  “You won’t see Harriet Tubman represented here in structures and statues, rather, she is memorialized in the land, water, and sky of the Eastern Shore where she was born and where she returned again and again to free others. Tubman would easily recognize this place. The landscapes and waterways that she navigated and used for sanctuary on her Underground Railroad missions have changed little from her time.” – nps.gov

Johannesburg, South Africa
Marco Cianfanelli

The sculpture significantly comprises 50 steel column constructions set into the Midlands Landscape.  The approach to the sculpture site leads one down a path towards the sculpture where, at a distance of 35 meters, a portrait of Nelson Mandela, looking west, comes into focus.  The 50 linear vertical units line up to create the illusion of a flat image.  Cianfanelli comments on the deliberate structural paradox, that, “this represents the momentum gained in the struggle through the symbolic of Mandela’s capture.  The 50 columns represent 50 years since his capture, but they also suggest the idea of many making the whole; of solidarity.  It points to an irony as the political act of Mandela’s incarceration cemented his status as an icon of struggle, which helped ferment the groundswell of resistance, solidarity and uprising, bringing about political change and democracy.” – http://www.thecapturesite.co.za

New York City, USA
Robert Graham

Every year on the Sunday nearest to Ellington’s April 29 birthday, the Duke Ellington Center produces a free birthday tribute to The Maestro at the Ellington Statue.

Washington, D.C., USA
Maya Lin

“Two black granite walls, placed below grade, engraved in chronological order with the names of the men and women who gave their lives in the Vietnam War.  At the apex where the two walls meet, the dates 1959 and 1973 (marking the beginning and end of the war) “meet” thus closing the circle of the time span of the war.  A returning veteran can find his or her own time upon the wall, making each one’s experience of the memorial very personal and individual.  The siting of the piece is directly related to the presence of both the Lincoln Monument and Washington Memorial, tying it physically and historically to the site.” http://www.mayalin.com

New York City, USA (STATUE)
Gabriel Koren + Algernon Miller

“The statue, which is approximately seven feet tall, depicts Douglass as a man in his fifties in the act of giving a speech with a determined expression. He stands beside a lectern, leaning slightly forward and holding up a crushed sheaf of papers. His left hand firmly grasps the top of the lectern, where an inkwell and a quill pen sit in reference to his work as an author. He is dressed in a formal doublebreasted frock coat, bow tie, and vest with a watch chain. The statue’s pedestal is two and one-half feet high and is clad in pink marble.” http://www.aoc.gov/capitol-hill/other-statues/frederick-douglass

This Strategic Plan has lead us to Phase 2:  Preliminary Design.  Click here to read about it!