Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Fantastic in the Fine Arts: Banned Books Week Edition

Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit Berlin, Germany.  It's a city filled with statues, monuments, and memorials, but one really stood out to me: Micha Ullman's remembrance of the Nazi book burning held at the Bebelplatz (formerly Opernplatz) on May 10, 1933.

Photo by Aaron Siirila, CC BY-SA 2.5 

Glass is set into the cobblestones, showing empty bookcases that have enough room to house the 20,000 or so books that were burned by Nazi stormtroopers, the SS, and the Hitler Youth.  The absence of books on the shelves speaks louder than almost any words could.

Almost any.

The memorial is accompanied by a plaque with an 1820 quote by Heinrich Heine: "Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen."

In English, this reads: "Where they burn books, they will eventually burn people."

Perhaps no one has ever made a more convincing argument against banning books.

Two more works of art in a similar vein are done by Mel Chin and are housed in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose. 

The first appears throughout the library in unmarked places; underneath certain shelves in the stacks, books that have been banned or burned at some point in history lie underneath plate glass, allowing patrons to see them but not reach them.

The second is a fireplace that appears to filled in with bricks, which, upon closer inspection, have been made to look like books.  As the library's website states, "These books are resistant to fire to honor the immortality of ideas while lamenting the loss of others."

If you know of other works of art celebrating banned books, please post them in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this column. I had never seen any of these memorials, and as much as it breaks my heart to see them, I'm glad I did.