The Parthenon of Books by Marta Minujín

Argentinian conceptual artist Marta Minujín has just installed her The Parthenon of Books in Kassel, Germany at part of Documenta 14 art festival. The Parthenon of Books is a decisive symbol of resistance to any banning of writings and the persecution of their authors. As many as 100,000 formerly or currently banned books from all over the world are needed to create the work on Friedrichsplatz in Kassel, where, on May 19, 1933, some 2,000 books were burned by the Nazis during the so-called “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist” (Campaign against the Un-German Spirit).

The Parthenon of Books is the main showpiece at this year’s Documenta – the contemporary art show held once every five years in the university town of Kassel. Minujín, 74, a pop art icon in South America, has described it as “the most political” of her works. Her work is a full-scale replica of the temple on the Acropolis, symbolizing the birthplace of democracy.

Working with students from Kassel University, the artist identified 170 books from around the world that were at one point banned or are banned in some countries while circulating freely in others. Some of the books that have been banned over the years include Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (banned in Argentina), Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (banned in China), and Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (banned in Canada). The public was then asked to donate these texts, which were wrapped in protective plastic and hung from the structure.

Minujín constructed a similar Parthenon in 1983 after the fall of her country’s dictatorship. The original El Partenón de libros featured the books that the former government had banned, and, at the end of the installation, Minujín let the public take what they wanted home. She will be allowing the same thing to happen this time.

With the rise of Far Right candidates in Europe and in America, along with creeping dictatorship in Turkey and authoritarianism in the Philippines, the idea of democracy and freedom of speech feels under threat more than ever.


Images by DPA and Roman März respectively