In December 1983 the Argentine Conceptual artist Marta Minujin and a group of helpers spent 17 days building a full-scale model of the Parthenon in a public park in Buenos Aires. Except for a metal scaffolding, it was made almost entirely of books wrapped in plastic. All the books had been banned by one of the most oppressive juntas in the country’s history, which was just being dismantled after Argentina’s first democratic election in a decade. “The Parthenon of Books/Homage to Democracy,” as Ms. Minujin’s work was titled, stood for about three weeks. Then the public was allowed to disassemble the piece and keep the books.
Even in grainy black-and-white photographs, the temple of books looks awesome, if slightly disheveled. (No matter the distance, books can’t be confused with marble.) It juts above the heads of the crowd gathered around it, as if sitting on its own printed-matter Acropolis. You had to be there for the full effect, I’m sure, but just seeing the photograph, reading the caption and thinking of the previously banned books funneling into circulation are both enlightening and moving.
The return of democracy in 1983, following seven years of a generally failed dictatorship, prompted Minujín to create a monument to a glaring, inanimate victim of the regime: freedom of expression. Assembling 30,000 banned books (including works as diverse as those by Freud, Marx, Sartre, Gramsci, Foucault, Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz, and Darcy Ribeiro, as well as satires such as Absalom and Achitophel, reference volumes such as Enciclopedia Salvat, and even children's texts, notably The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry), she designed the "Parthenon of Books," and following President Raúl Alfonsín's December 10 inaugural, had it mounted on a boulevard median along the Ninth of July Avenue. Dismantled after three weeks, its mass of newly-unbanned titles was distributed to the public below.
More information and photographs of the Parthenon of Books happening may be sought in THIS PAGE in Marta Minujin's OFFICIAL WEBSITE.
A visit to the rest of the site reveals the artist's extensive use of emblematic ancient Greek sculptures (like the Venus di Milo) in several of her works of art.
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