Debated or ignored. Protested or symbols of protest. Demolished or revered. Recognized as monuments or not.

The After Monument shares local stories of 17 controversial monuments in-depth, while connecting them to the continuing global debates around memorialization, decolonization and public art. The archive can be accessed through the Themes, which highlights some of the key controversies with the monuments as case studies and points of discussion. The Archive presents all the monuments side-by-side. Through either section, you can access the individual stories of these fascinating monuments.

Modern symbols of white supremacy Why do some monuments become symbols for white supremacist groups? Some statues become objects imbued with significance beyond the figures they represent and the intentions of these symbols. In the German and Icelandic cases, identical statues have opposite fates: one statue has become a beacon for white supremacists, while the other has been forgotten. In contrast, a former right-wing mayor of Vienna’s legacy is so lasting due to the appropriation of his memory by the Nazis that his statue remains a site of protest and counter-protest.

Removal feels incomplete: limiting the potential for historical recontextualization and futile to curbing the protests of fascist groups. However, there is potential for creative solutions that make the debate the focal point rather than a solitary, symbolic figure.
REMNANTS OF CONFLICT How do military structures become monuments? Should they? Massive pieces of infrastructure become symbols of the values inherent in their construction both through their perceived function and sheer magnitude, yet they are not recognized as monuments. In Vienna, the city was protected by fortresses constructed by the Nazis in WWII, but today towers are neither meaningful enough nor small enough to be removed. In Belfast, the Peace Walls are still functional in some perspectives as a decades-long debate and conflict remains volatile.

If removal is not an option and the meaning is not clear, these massive pieces of infrastructure are simply architectural features. These structures offer opportunities for reappropriation and intervention at the possible expense of historical contextualization and memorialization of victims.
Colonizer’s statue in the colony How are colonialists represented in the places they colonized? From the Spanish in Colombia to the French in Morocco and the Germans in Namibia, the distinction between past and present is in conflict. In the public space, monuments predominantly represent the history, priorities, and figures of the ruling class—be it the idealization of European whiteness over indigenous, the denial of the French influence in modern day Morocco, or the violently gained influence of a tiny German minority in Namibia.

While these examples have little in common historically or geographically, they highlight the challenges of generalizing colonial experiences. The monuments represent a history preferably forgotten, yet unchangeable, unreconciled, and ubiquitous in these societies. The path forward is unclear and tumultuous, but there is an opportunity and a need to tell underrepresented and complex narratives in public space.
Colonial figures at home How are colonial figures represented in their "home" countries? From the perspective of a colonial power, there is an inherent hierarchy: us (civilizers, heroes, the nation state) and them (savages, innocents, territories) and this framework is so innate to national ideology, that it is challenging to unpack it. In the case of the United States and Portugal, the colonial history is still cherished; whereas in Germany, despite similar actions, it is hidden so much that it is virtually denied. The forms of the monuments exacerbate these realities: the street names in Berlin provide no opening to engage with the controversy, and the statues in Lisbon and New York normalize the hierarchy with archetypal figures.

Both unchanged public space and the removal of these monuments feels unsatisfactory and even perilous. However, to address them requires a critical investigation of national identities and myth.
Dictators’ Visions and Values What can we understand about dictators by looking at the monuments they construct? Monuments are created and recreated by dictators to project a sense of reconciliation, of legitimacy, and optimism for the future under their control; however, in doing so, alternative narratives are paved over (sometimes literally). These are not monuments of the powerful men themselves—they are abstract symbols that tell a narrative. Each example—a refurbished Medieval castle in Portugal, a tall cross above an unmarked mass grave in Spain, and massive, abstract sculptures in the former Yugoslavia—obscure the complexity and violence that led to their existence.

None of these monuments will be removed because of their size and symbolic forms, which prevent direct protest. However, the false reconciliation they represent must be addressed and contextualized for any hope of true reconciliation or even critical discourse.
PERSONIFYING VICTIMS How do monuments to victims differ from glorifying heroes? These monuments honor victims, bringing painful and shameful history to light. The Statue of Peace, honoring South Korean comfort women, depicts a young girl sitting stoically by herself. Through its simple existence, the monument challenges a history not acknowledged by the Japanese and proves the innocence and strength of the victims. In contrast, the Memorial against War and Fascism in Vienna depicts the suffering of World War II, in an abstracted human form. Its raw but incomplete depiction of Jewish humiliation at the hands of Austrians offers no opportunity for reflection or mourning.

These monuments show that depicting victimhood can be as controversial and misleading as placing someone on a pedestal, especially when placed in the country where such acts were committed and where many people were complicit.