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A 'Parthenon' of banned literature on a former Nazi book-burning site

Welcome to the Parthenon of Books, a life-sized replica of the Greek temple that’s covered in tens of thousands of forbidden books donated from around the world.

A centrepiece of documenta 14, Germany’s biggest contemporary art exhibition, it’s the work of Argentine artist Marta Minujín. The 74-year-old was a friend of Andy Warhol.

It stands on Friedrichsplatz, in the centre of the city of Kassel, where, on May 19, 1933, the Nazis burned some 2,000 books as part of their “Campaign against the Un-German Spirit”.

On display are works that were once deemed ‘subversive’ – too critical, too liberal, too erotic, etc. – and were banned under Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, Communist East Germany, or were removed from schools in the United States and beyond.

On display are works by Honoré de Balzac, Bertolt Brecht, Sigmund Freud, and hugely popular modern classics such as J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.

The documenta 14 website describes the installation as “a symbol of opposition to the banning of writings and the persecution of their authors.”

Participatory art

The exhibit aims to spark discussions among visitors. Where and why were Mickey Mouse strips banned? What’s wrong with reading Twilight – the vampire-romance novel by author Stephenie Meyer – or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince?

The 70-meter-long, 30-meter-wide and 20-meter-high metal construction is reminiscent of the Acropolis – a symbol of democracy that also serves as a visual bridge to Athens, where a sister documenta 14 show is being held for the first time since the prestigious art fair began in 1955.

Each morning, students of the University of Kassel bring more of the controversial books – displayed behind protective plastic covers.

Some works can already be found in several languages – but it’s still a work in progress, and the artist hopes to collect thousands more.

Once the fair ends, the books will be donated. Some people argue the ‘Parthenon of Books’ should stay.

Another impressive exhibit is One Room Apartment, created with a series of ceramic pipes. It centres on the experience of Kurdish-Iraqi artist Hiwa K. after he fled northern Iraq on foot in the 1990’s.

“He walked on foot across Turkey and then ended up for a time being in the town of Patras (Greece) where he lived in these ceramic pipes that are used for canalisation,” Polish curator Adam Szymczyk told Reuters TV.

Hiwa K. describes the exhibit as a reflection on poverty, capitalism and what happens when people no longer have room for their belongings. He had hoped to turn the exhibit into an Airbnb space for visitors, but the city refused on health and safety grounds.

Documenta 14 in Kassel runs until September 17.

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