Reconciliatory Methods For Controversial Memorials

Alex Ramirez and Maggie Huang

Puerto Madero-Las Nereidas


Reconciliatory Methods For Controversial Memorials from mxhuang on Vimeo.

Dolores Hernandez-Mora was a brilliant sculptor from the 19-20th century recognized as a rebel and feminist ahead of her time. Much of her artwork was controversial throughout Argentina, but one sculpture in particular sparked one of the largest debates in the country. At the turn of the 20th century, Mora completed and unveiled the Nereids Fountain in Parque Colon Sur, Buenos Aires, to the people of Argentina. The Fountain depicted the mythical birth of Venus and featured a retinue of nude sea nymphs and three virile figures wrestling winged horses. The Argentinian public was left in shock. Many citizens criticized the work to be “pornographic” and “licentious.” Not only was the sculpture under fire, but Dolores Mora herself was criticized for wearing trousers instead of a skirt to the work site. The overwhelming pressure from Argentinians and “moralists” resulted in the relocation of the monument to Puerto Madero’s Costanero Sur in 1918. Recently however, the sculpture has been recognized as one of the most important in the city when it was declared a National Historic Monument in 1997.

Memorial Architecture and Monuments are very meticulously handled in all countries all across the world. They are constructed to be tangible structures that link to achievements, tragedies, beliefs, victories or any other defining events or convictions in a country’s history. As was said by Samir-Al Kahlil in The Monument: Art, Vulgarity, and Responsibility in Iraq:

“Monuments are more than aesthetic objects. In their deepest essence they are about memories, memories that constitute the very marrow of a city’s identity, bestowing personality and character upon a city just as they do upon an individual. The form, shape, size and way of making a monument, the story of how it came to be there, the trials and tribulations of those who made it, the manner of its placement in its city, all of these contribute to crystallizing the workings of memory.”

So what happens when citizens do not agree with memorials/monuments that were constructed for their countries? Societies deal with controversial memorials in one of two ways; Active Reconciliation – in which figures of authority either demolish or relocate the structure, or Passive Reconciliation – in which the passing of time allows societies to re-appropriate the structure. Monuments such as the Pearl Square and the The Bronze Soldier represent demolition and relocation respectively, Nelson’s Column and the Monument to the Revolution represent re-appropriation, and the Saint-Jacques Tower in France represents a combination of all three methods.

Pearl Square Monument, Manama, Bahrain, 1982, Unknown Architect

Demolition of Pearl Square Monument


Demolitions are one of the most common types of measures used to deal with controversial memorials. They pose a quick escape route to forgetting the conflict and moving towards a more peaceful future- or at least an attempt to. For example, let’s look at the controversy surrounding the Pearl Square Monument in Manama, the capital city of Bahrain. The monument consisted of six dhow “sails” projecting up towards the sky, which came together to hold a pearl at the top. The six sails designated the Gulf Cooperation Council’s six member nations, while the pearl symbolized their united heritage and the country’s famous history of pearl cultivation. In 2011 however, the monument became the site of anti-government rallies with an atmosphere modeled after the protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Security Forces overran the camp killing at least 5 people which in turn, enflamed sectarian tensions across the region. The Bahrain Government decided to demolish the Pearl Square Monument a couple days later with the explanation “it was a bad memory.” In this situation, the Bahrain Government demolished a monument to rectify a conflict – but it was a conflict that went much deeper than the monument itself. Pearl Square just gave protesters a symbolic spot to wage their war against a government they felt was unfit to rule. The demolition was an attempted “quick fix” to a controversial situation.

In addition, many demolitions occurred in conquests.The Spanish conquest over the Aztecs and Incas resulted in the loss of many buildings and monuments important to their respective cultures. It can be argued that in these cases there was controversy over the identity of the land. The Spanish conquerors wanted to make the land their own and get rid of the structures that weren’t true to their country. Therefore, buildings and monuments alike were torn down to make way for a new style of construction that properly represented the Spanish way of life.



The Bronze Soldier, Talinn, 1947, Arnold Alas

The Bronze Soldier before it was Relocated

Relocation is the second method used to deal with controversial memorials. This method stymies the aggravation between opposing forces while still managing to preserve a beautiful piece of architecture. There has been nearly as much relocation as there has been demolition of memorials.

In addition to the Nereids Fountain in Argentina touched on earlier, the country of Estonia housed a controversy over a monument – The Bronze Soldier – that resulted in its relocation. The Bronze Soldier was a Soviet World War II Memorial originally constructed in Talinn, Estonia in 1947. Different interpretations and political views on the events of the war were heightened during the construction and unveiling of the memorial. The disputes surrounding the statue peaked with two nights of riots in Talinn, besieging of the Estonian embassy in Moscow for a week, and cyber-attacks on Estonian organizations. The unrest pressured the Estonian government to take action. In April 2007, the memorial was relocated to the Defense Forces Cemetery of Talinn, which ended the riots and placated the public.

Nelson’s Column, Tranfalgar Square, England, 1843, William Railton

Monument to the Revolution, Podgaric, Croatia, 1967

Nelson's Column
Nelson’s Column

On the other side of the reconciliation spectrum is re-appropriation. Re-appropriation differs from demolition and relocation because nothing is directly or physically done to the structure to reconcile the conflict. Rather, the reconciliation occurs as a result of time passed, which then causes a disconnection from the monuments original meaning. Re-appropriation occurs when the monument outlasts protest or becomes re-contextualized. There are many monuments that resist demolition or relocation and after a while are just accepted as a part of history. The difference lies in that the original meaning of the memorial is no longer taken seriously. It is looked at in the past tense. The current structure now means something else, whether it is a tourist destination, a museum, or a park.

Monument to the Revolution
Monument to the Revolution

Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, England, and the Monument to the Revolution in Croatia are prime examples of re-appropriation. Nelson’s column started out as a memorial to the idea of conquest – a testament that many people questioned the ethics of. There were disagreements and protests against the monuments representation but in the end nothing was done. Presently, Nelson’s column is a popular tourist destination featured frequently on British post cards. People don’t view the monument in the context of its original meaning anymore. Instead, Nelson’s Column has retired to being a mere chapter in the history of England. The Monument to the Revolution in Croatia on the other hand, had a much more ironic transformation. The Monument was originally constructed to signify the socialist government and they’re expansive power across Europe. It was constructed out of wood and placed near a largely populated socialist town in 1967. But since the Republic disbanded in the 1990’s, the statue has lived a lonely and neglected life in the Eastern European countryside. The Monument to the Revolution has now become representative of the downfall of the Socialist Regime – no longer powerful or expansive.

Demolition, Relocation, Re-appropriation
Saint-Jacques Tower, Paris France, 1523, Jean de Félin

la tour st jacques la boucherie

So now, what would be the effects of an example that seems to have combined all three reconciliation methods? The Tour-de-Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, once located next to the markets of Les Halles, used to be a highly decorated church erected during the 16th century to mark the point of departure for pilgrims marching toward Santiago de Compostela . During the French Revolution, part of the church was pulled down and sold to separate locations while the remaining piece became a bullet factory. It was then re-appropriated by Napolean III during the Second Empire and “re-monumentalised” with a new statue of Blaise Pascal, the French Mathmetician, at its feet. Today, it is a UNESCO world heritage site. The Tour de Saint Jacques de la Boucherie and its long history of relocation, demolition, and re-appropriation, very clearly shows the progression of events through its constant evolution. Joel White says in Monuments to Resistance that, “At each stage of the tower’s history its meaning has been symbolically and functionally re-appropriated by a new ideological order that has subsequently sought its justification through a form of memorialization.” In summary, one can argue that the tower creates a very intriguing timeline of social change manifested in each layer added and deducted from the structure and its site.


In conclusion, nearly as important as an individual’s identity, is the identity of the city in which they live. Memorials and monuments serve as the chapters of a city’s life. They pinpoint influential and life-changing events that have molded people into the society they are today. Therefore, choices regarding memorial construction can often be a touchy subject. As said before, societies deal with controversial memorials in one of two ways; Active Reconciliation – in which figures of authority either relocate or demolish the structure, or Passive Reconciliation – in which the passing of time allows societies to re-appropriate the structure. Demolition is the most common measure taken to pacify an unhappy public, but in the end, sacrifices a piece of history. Relocation is better in that in preserves the structure, although removing it from its original context. Lastly, there is re-appropriation, which is the most successful in documenting the evolution of social change in countries all over the world. Nelson’s Column, The Monument to the Revolution, and in part the Tour de Saint Jacques de la Boucherie all illustrate this point clearly.



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