Argentine artist Marta Minujín has created a full-scale replica of Greek Parthenon using 100,000 banned books from all over the world and symbolizes the resistance to political repression. Censorship, the persecution of writers and the prohibition of their texts motivated by political interests and attempting to influence our thoughts, our ideas, and our bodies, are once again widespread today.
Working with students from Kassel University, the artist identified 170 books from around the world that were at one point banned or are banned in some countries while circulating freely in others. The public was then asked to donate these texts, which were wrapped in protective plastic and hung from the structure. By placing censored material on a replica of the Parthenon—a structure symbolizing democracy—the Argentinian artist asks us to consider the role of politics in attempting to influence thought.
The installation The Parthenon of Books has been presented in Kassel as a replica of the temple on the Acropolis in Athens, which symbolizes the aesthetic and political ideals of the world’s first democracy. Composed of as many as 100,000 banned books from all over the world, the work has been erected on Friedrichsplatz in Kassel, where some two thousand books were burned during the so-called “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist” (Campaign against the Un-German Spirit). In 1941, the Fridericianum—which was still being used as a library at the time—was engulfed in flames during an Allied bombing attack, and another collection of some 350,000 books was lost.
Minujín’s The Parthenon of Books traces its origins to an installation titled El Partenón de libros, which was realized in 1983, shortly after the collapse of the civilian-military dictatorship in Argentina, and presented the very books that had been banned by the ruling junta. After five days of exhibition, two cranes tipped the building slightly to one side, allowing viewers to remove the books and take them home. A public action devoted to returning the once-forbidden books to circulation is also being planned for the new Parthenon at the end of documenta 14.
The Parthenon of Books is presented as part of documenta 14 — an art festival and exhibition taking place in Kassel, Germany, and Athens, Greece this year.
all images © Roman Maerz