The Art of Past or Present Dictatorships (Food For Thought)
I read an interesting article this morning on USA Today which was about how artwork and sculptures from the Saddam Hussein regime are being destroyed in and around Baghdad. There are historians both in and outside of Iraq that fear that destoying these “monuments” is destoying a piece of history. On the flip side, there are people that feel that these pieces should be destoyed because they represent a devastaing time in Iraqi history and symbolize an unjust man. The article then went on to explain how artwork from other dictatorships (Russia during the early part of the century, Nazi Germany) was dealt with after those dictatorships fell.
Reading this article got me to thinking about the role of art, books, and writings from times in world history in which peoples and/or groups were oppressed or had crimes commited against them. My artistic mind says that these objects are imperative because they preserve history – and history is relevant to humanity whether or not it’s a positive history. Yet, my emotional mind says that these objects should be destroyed because of what they represent – pain, oppression, hatred. I asked myself if I would want a statue of David Duke, greeting me whenever I drove into Louisiana – and of course the first answer was a resonding “Of course not!”.
However, I feel that if I were to remove myself from the emotionally charged aspect of the statue, then perhaps I could see it for what it was – concrete and iron. Of course this situation is metaphoric and there are no statues of David Duke anywhere that I know of…but it still begs the question of whether or not we should destroy these types of things. Concentration camps still stand in Europe (and some are tourits attractions) and people use old plantations as prime wedding spots here in the US. In fact, some of you may even drive a piece of art from a terrible regime – The Volkswagen car was an idea of Hitler’s. Does the fact that they still stand mean that society still values them for their original meaning or for what they have evolved into?
I have not yet come to a definitive answer to my own question and I could possibly be insensitive in saying that if the meaning were removed from art from harsh regimes, some of it is actually quite impressive. I suppose now that I think about it more, books are one thing where as artwork is another…a book gives us a glimpse into how life was (and we can certainly learn lessons from that) whereas a piece of art may just continue to remind us of just how low humanity can get. There are so many elements to this question, both intellectual and emotional…I would like your input. Please share your thoughts.