The Distorted Message of Public Memorials

Memorials serve as artwork for the public in general to remember those lost due to tragic historical events. They are commissioned by the state for different artists to depict the feeling of grief and sadness onto public space. Their purpose is to stop war and hate. To stop children from suffering and having to fight for their lives.

But, how effective are these artworks today? Are children being murdered in the name of war today? Is world hunger over? Are Nazis still around? These questions arise because it is unavoidable to address the politics of the dead body in commissioned memorial art, in terms of race and nationality. The dead body being remembered, honored, and cried over right now is mostly the one belonging to Americans and Europeans. Which lives matter and which don’t in the eyes of the public and the state that commissions these memorials?

The 9/11 Memorial in New York and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin are perhaps the most famous, photographed, grieved over, and Instragramed memorials of all time. Moreover, are there any famous memorials about the thousands of deaths of the innocent civilians from Syria, Iran, and Iraq? How much more valuable are white American lives than those of non-English speakers of color?


The attacks on the city of Paris back in 2015 caused a commotion on social media creating the infamous filter and hashtag #PrayforParis. There is not a memorial for this attack yet but there are many memorials in Paris in the name of white Europeans, mostly the Jewish memorials. It is however, ironic and disturbing how history repeats itself with someone having so much power over people like the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu who, to put it delicately, has murder thousands and hundreds of Palestinian women, children, and men over the past decade. Where are the Instagramable memorials for the Palestinians? Where is the hashtag? Where is the Facebook filter for them?


Now, the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub back in 2016 was a direct attack on the LGBTQ community and the Latinx community. This terrorist action cannot escape the word intersectionality to come into play. Because it is people who speak mostly English and reside in the United States, the Instagramability of the event reached higher levels as opposed to homosexuals in many Muslim countries who are stoned to death every single day. There is a very simple memorial outside of what used to be Pulse Nightclub, but with no artistic approach to it that can send a message of a reminder of homophobic acts.

In conclusion, we must question which lives the state thinks matter most. Is it those lives of white Americans? Is it the lives of LGBTQ people of color? Is it the lives of Jews and Europeans? Or is it the lives of Palestinians?