‘Monument’, the new controversial installation in the city centre of Dresden, portrays the city as an example of hope, rebuilding and peace. It is a strong message of unity and empathy that should be cherished instead of refused.
Just a few weeks ago, the city of Dresden became the décor of a new war monument by the Syrian-born German artist Manaf Halbouni. The monument was erected just days before the yearly commemoration of the air raids that destroyed the city of Dresden near the end of the Second World War. Halbouni’s monument features three upright school busses on a concrete base, right in the city centre of Dresden and directly in front of the rebuilt Frauenkirche. The artwork is inspired by a photograph that was taken in Aleppo, where people erected three school busses in a busy street to protect people from snipers. Halbouni was moved by how daily life resumed behind the protection of this barrier.
Both in Dresden and Aleppo, innocent civilians were brutally slaughtered.
The reveal of the monument, just three days before the 72-year anniversary of the allied raids that destroyed Dresden, sparked a lot of controversy and anger amongst the citizens of the German city. During the reveal, the mayor of Dresden could hardly overrule the shouting protesters. Not only alt-right PEGIDA supporters were voicing their strong discontent about the monument, but also many citizens feel the artwork is a provocation in times that are meant for solemn commemoration of the 25.000 victims of the February 13 air raids. They felt like the one day they had in order to mourn their victims in peace, was taken from them. Why should their losses be equated to the suffering of the people in Aleppo and the rest of Syria?
Of course, I understand the sentiment. Commemoration of war victims is already a sensitive subject when your country was the perpetrator, the enemy. I understand that the citizens of Dresden want to mourn their victims in peace. However, the 13th of February is still a day when a lot of alt-right groups express themselves. With the rise of populism and anti-Islam sentiment across Europe, Halbouni’s monument now, is more important than ever. On his website Halbouni wrote: “The installation of ‘Monument’ refers to the current situation in Syria. The image of the school busses in front of the Frauenkirche shows the connection between the situation of the people in the Middle-East and Europe: the suffering of ineffable loss, but also the hope of rebuilding and peace.”
In times of hatred and divide, Halbouni attempted to create an artwork that would unite people, one that visualised the hope of rebuilding and peace. The spiteful reception of his work painfully portrays the lack of empathy in contemporary society. The ‘own people first’ mindset prevails. The fact that the people of Dresden fail to see the connection between their losses and the suffering of the people of Aleppo, once again confirms the need for artworks like Halbouni’s, that emphasize our similarities instead of our differences. Both in Dresden and Aleppo, innocent civilians were brutally slaughtered. The people of Dresden rebuilt their city with their bare hands. They should be proud that their city has been portrayed as a symbol of hope, rebuilding and peace for the people who are suffering in the places where war still reigns.