Germany: Right-wing groups protest installation in Dresden; threaten mayor

3 April 2017
The unveiling of artist Manaf Halbouni’s ‘Monument’ installation, inspired by the Syrian war, near a church in Dresden drew protests from right-wing groups.
Photo: Manaf Halbouni/Facebook


The unveiling of artist Manaf Halbouni’s ‘Monument’, a peace memorial inspired by the Syrian war consisting of three buses standing upright on their ends beside the Frauenkirche church in Dresden, drew protests from right-wing groups from the AfD (Alternative for Germany) nationalist party and PEGIDA movement, reported Deutsche Welle on 7 February 2017.

Additionally, Dresden Mayor Dirk Hilbert has been under police protection due to receiving death threats ever since he approved the piece of public art.

Over 100 protestors showed up for the unveiling chanting “traitors”, “get lost” and “Hilbert must go”, reported The Art Newspaper on 8 February 2017.

Members of the PEGIDA movement, a far-right movement started in 2014 that in German stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, were particularly angered as the monument was erected near their organisation’s home in Neumarkt square.

Some protesters saw the installation’s location as a provocation since the square is a popular rallying point for the groups to begin protest marches, reported The Guardian on 7 February 2017.

PEGIDA supporters, as well as those of AfD, a populist party founded in 2013, called for the installation to be burned down and threatened the mayor over social media before the unveiling.

Christiane Mennicke-Schwarz, artistic director of the Dresden Kunsthaus, which is overseeing the art project, said the work hit “an important nerve”: “It shows how important it is to focus on this subject. We have to be open to the suffering of others.”

Memorial to peace and forgiveness
The artist, who was born in Damascus to a German mother and Syrian father, placed the work in the area to draw a connection between the current war in Syria and the bombing of the German city during World War II, which led to the complete destruction of the city and left 25,000 people dead over three nights of bombing in February 1945.

Halbouni drew inspiration from the piece after a 2015 photo from Aleppo, where residents barricaded a street by erecting three bombed buses upright on their ends to protect themselves from attack.

The artist’s piece intended to show the loss suffered as a cause of war in a place where the hope for peace and reconstruction took place after its own suffering over 70 years ago.

Halbouni himself has strong ties to Dresden as not only did he study art in the city and has been based at the city’s school of fine arts since 2009, but it’s also the place where his father, who studied architecture in Dresden, met his mother.

“I am rootless, in the sense that the war has taken my childhood away from me, by killing or scattering the friends of my youth all over the globe,” he told The Guardian. “Since then I have been in transit, because I still feel that people here struggle to take me seriously as a German.”

The artwork, which stood over 12 metres tall, was on display from 7 February – 3 April 2017.

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