(Un)monumenting: what came before

As part of the exhibition (Un)monumenting: The Future Should Always Be Better, in the coming weeks we explore the subject of “monuments.” What are monuments, or what should they be, why do they exist, and for whom?

In this article, you’ll read about creators who have previously worked on the theme of (Un)monumenting. This program line was initiated in 2021 by Stichting NDSM-werf and has since undergone various interpretations. In chronological order, can you remember al of these artworks?

Ademhaling van de Stad (Breath of the City): Frerara

In 2021, the collective Frerara – Frederick Calmes, Raquel van Haver, and Raul Balai – was invited to make the 2020 Tekenopdracht, commissioned by the Amsterdam City Archives, visible at NDSM. In (Un)monumenting #1, Frerara presented images from Ademhaling van de Stad, focusing on underrepresented Amsterdammers and their stories.

The three artists merge themes such as the archive, transition, art and culture, and the city’s signature in their work. To achieve this, they conduct research on the city’s residents, specifically exploring the tradition of keeping the city alive as a ritual. Through their drawings, they reveal a different facet of Amsterdam and created a temporary “monument” for some of the city’s underrepresented residents.

This work questioned the role of monuments in contemporary society: who are monuments actually for, and can/should they serve as a platform for underrepresented individuals, topics, or images?

Not Forever: Sijben Rosa

For (Un)monumenting #2, Sijben Rosa created a temporary and performative monument; two terms that embody a strong contradiction. The central question: is it still relevant and preferable to create a monument that will be there forever?

Not Forever was an ode to what the NDSM was, is, and the future prospects for his place that are subject to transience, a changing city, and climate change. The object, reminiscent of a large erratic boulder, was constructed from remnants of the demolished building of Sociëteit Sexyland.

The monument becomes visible only when it is removed – Sasha Pevak

The work wandered around NDSM for about a month and a half, each time finding a new destination and “guardian” responsible for ensuring the object was visible and unharmed for a short period. After its journey, the object was dismantled and the parts recycled, in line with the title of this work. Not Forever raised questions about what makes monuments monumental: is it the imagery, or rather the experiences and context with the object through its lifetime that give it its essence? “Just as if you were to dissect a person entirely, you wouldn’t find a single piece where the soul or identity resides, it’s within your entire being.” – Sijben Rosa.

Monument: Manaf Halbouni

Monument was realized in 2017 by Syrian-German artist Manaf Halbouni. The work originally referred to the war in Syria, depicting a widely circulated image in the media of civilians in Aleppo taking cover behind three upright standing buses from snipers.

The work referred to war situations and experiences in Syria but also globally, and what that signifies for societies in times of peace. “I wanted to show how quickly war and peace can change,” said Halbouni. “And there’s always war, but there’s also reconstruction.”

This work was about the role of peace or war monuments in public spaces: these are locations where you can reach many people simultaneously, but also a place where people don’t explicitly ask to appreciate art (for that, many people go to a museum). The work elicited many reactions from spectators at the NDSM-wharf, as well as in other places like Dresden, where the work was also displayed. These both positive and negative reactions raised questions: should monuments occupy space in public places, and if so, how and for whom?

Landed Rock: Clinton Kabena

It seems as though this car landed with a big crash. As the first participating work of (Un)monumenting: The Future Should Always Be Better, starting from October 5, 2023, designer and visual artist Clinton Kabena’s installation Landed Rock is displayed. Alongside the car that appears to have dived nose-first into the ground, Kabena also fills the NDSM Billboards with three visuals.

This work challenges the viewer to contemplate the fantastic nature of borders, constructed as they are from the collective imagination of societies. The confrontation of the grandeur of these monumental structures with the fragile threads of unity they try to maintain.

Learn more about this work in the podcast episode of NDSM X (in Dutch).

As you can see, within the program line of (Un)monumenting, strides have been taken in recent years to question monuments, their themes, and their significance. In the upcoming group exhibition (Un)monumenting: The Future Should Always Be Better, we will continue this exploration. Over the coming weeks, we’ll gradually reveal more about the works, the creators, and the stories of this exhibition. Follow us on social media to stay updated!

NDSM uses cookies. Please check our privacy statement for more information.