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A Temple of Banned Books

Alex Chams By Alex Chams Published on July 12, 2017
This article was updated on September 26, 2017
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“Any book worth banning is a book worth reading.” ― Isaac Asimov

The art exhibition Documenta, founded in 1955, is held every five years. Documenta 14 kicked off this April in Athens, Greece, and another opening followed in its hometown of Kassel, Germany, in June.

One of the most visible and ambitious installations in Kassel this year is Argentinian artist Marta Minujín's The Parthenon of Books. This large-scale replica is built in steel, plastic sheeting, and books. 
Taking inspiration from the temple in Athens that symbolizes the ideals of what we know as the world’s first democracy, Minujín's artwork is built with 100,000 or so banned books from all over the world, many of which were donated by the public, publishers, and authors. 

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photo Roman Maerz

Moreover, the installation was erected on Friedrichsplatz in Kassel, where in 1933, about 2,000 books were burned in part of a country-wide campaign of burning books associated with an “un-German spirit”. Thousands more books were lost in 1941, when Kassel's Fridericianum museum, still used as a library at the time, caught fire during an Allied bombing raid.

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Minujín’s El Partenón de libros 

But the origins of The Parthenon of Books lie in Minujín’s work of the same title, El Partenón de libros, that she realized in 1983 following the collapse of the military dictatorship in Argentina. To build the walls, she used 25,000 books that had been banned or burned by the dictatorship. Five days after the exhibition opened, cranes tipped the building to one side so that the public could take books home.

This year at Documenta, the banned books that line the giant columns of Minujín's Parthenon come from the world over and include a number that have been banned in the US, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and even Twilight

Minujín’s project is a timely reminder of issues that have remained relevant to societies since the original Parthenon was built atop the Acropolis. 

Learn more: Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. The American Library Association is always a good source of information. 

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photo Roman Maerz

top photo of the artist Marta Minujín


Journalist, globe trotter and food lover