South African Journal of Cultural History

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The aesthetics of ideology: the vicissitudes of monuments

Estelle A Mare


This article refers in broad outline to the purpose of monuments, both sculptural and architectural. The problem set is the assessment of the congruence between the aesthetic design or material expression, and the ethical or ideological meaning of monuments. Historical examples are selected from the category of architectural structures and monumental sculptures representing defunct ideologies. This group of structures are often neglected, vandalised, completely destroyed, toppled, appropriated or recycled by rival groups. The further discussion focusses on two proposed monuments, both of which are intended to honour the victims of past events, which were inspired by ideological considerations. These examples are chosen because their separate designs could give an indication whether or not their planners have learnt a lesson from the past, that the ideologies which inspire them at the present time will inevitably become defunct and that the physical presence of symbolic structures will become offensive to future rulers. Both in terms of formal qualities and content or meaning in the context of the dominant political ideology of a society, there is generally a mismatch between aesthetic expression and ethical intent in the design of political or national monuments. In the final section an attempt is made to solve the problem of remembering the past in ways other than the erection of monumental constructions intended to celebrate past or present political ideologies or heroes.

SA Journal of Cultural History Vol.16(2) 2002: 15-24
AJOL African Journals Online