Few words have been so used in contemporary culture as the word “memory.” A key marker in diverse fields such as historiography, politics, psychoanalysis, visual and performative arts, information technology, and media studies, it also has impacted landscapes, architecture, public art, and public space. Memory is selective. Both personal and societal memories are always subject to construction, repression, and denial.
The construction of monuments, memorials, and museums all over the globe, as well as the significance that these sites of memory may have for affected communities, exemplify the unique lens through which the built environment can help us collectively process and experience memory. As a place of common remembrance, a monument or memorial is intended to be historically referential and direct attention to issues beyond itself.
The culture of memory may be found in the struggle for justice and human rights along with the remembrance of historical events, which are strongly linked to one another. Many communities and nations seek to create and to live in our modern society in the wake of mass exterminations, enslavement, apartheids, segregation, military dictatorships, and totalitarianism. In the past year alone, the way the Black Lives Matter movement transformed public streets into communal plazas has clearly illustrated the role that democratic public spaces in and of themselves can play in these fundamental conversations.
In recent years, significant discussions throughout US cities, and the globe, regarding the public significance of legacies and memories, and the meaning of public monuments and memorials, continue to take place. While memories can differ and historical facts can be emphasized (and/or obscured), many institutions, monuments, and public spaces have become much more ‘visible’ than ever before.