Monday, March 28, 2016

Harriet F. Senie's "Memorials to Shattered Myths"

Harriet F. Senie, author of Memorials to Shattered Myths: Vietnam to 9/11, is Director of the M.A. Program in Art History and Art Museum Studies at City College, City University of New York, and also teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of several books and numerous articles on public art, and is co-founder of the international organization Public Art Dialogue and co-editor of its journal, Public Art Dialogue.

Senie applied the “Page 99 Test” to Memorials to Shattered Myths: Vietnam to 9/11 and reported the following:
In some respects the Page 99 Test works for Memorials to Shattered Myths: Vietnam to 9/11. It falls in the chapter on the Columbine shootings, which together with the Vietnam War, the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks all shattered myths of national identity: Vietnam that the U.S. always won wars; Oklahoma City that the heartland was safe; Columbine that the American high school experience was an idyllic part of growing up; and 9/11 many, many assumptions. Memorials to these events conflated cemeteries with memorials, and heroes with victims. By employing strategies of diversion or denial (consciously or not) they effectively preclude any consideration of the implications of these events.

This page observes that the primary scene of death at Columbine High School, the library, was eradicated and replaced by an atrium defined by an uplifting mural of trees and sky, while a new library was built on the other side of the building. This paralleled the deliberate omission of any reference to the two boys responsible for the shooting. Initially 15 crosses were erected, one for each of the victims including the two killers, but these two were immediately destroyed.

The book argues that the memorial process for major events such as these be a tri-partite undertaking leading to immediate, interim and permanent structures. It includes a chapter on immediate memorials, a common mourning ritual that is rooted in cemetery practice. Non-perishable objects left at these gatherings are often stored in adjacent museums or local historical societies. Presently victims families play a major role in determining the permanent memorial but this book suggests that it makes more sense to put them in charge of the interim memorial, which might take whatever form they deem would best address their needs during this deep mourning period of shock and transition. The permanent memorial would then be primarily in the hands of professionals, as was the case with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The book concludes: “The purpose of memorials –especially national ones – is to remember those who died and the circumstances of their death. These structures must have an immediate resonance not only for those who lost family members and loved ones, but also for everyone affected by the tragedy. They must have a broader significance as well because they define the present to the future.”
© 2016 Harriet F. Senie
Visit Harriet F. Senie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue