Atlanta Subway Map

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Section IV

Interventions in Public Space

Chapter 11

Border Memorials: When the local rejects the global

SueAnne Ware RMIT University


Centuries of immigration and migration of various peoples’ have created incremental and dramatic shifts towards notions of globalism and the formation of pluralist societies. Forced migration practices and refugee situations are included in the diaspora of people, language and culture (Sandercock 2003: 21). Our cities are often celebrated as multi-cultural, pluralist societies. Contemporary cities and in particular those in western democracies crave the richness of cultural diversity and celebrate particular ethnic enclaves, but they rarely acknowledge those who do not belong’ and more specifically, supposedly-unwanted refugees.

In the built environment, where national identity and history are often spatialized and reinforced through the production of memorial spaces, how are recent plights of illegal’ refugees considered? In postcolonial nations, whose fundamental histories rely on truths and mythologies of immigrant populations, the contemporary refugee crisis is incredibly paradoxical. In particular in Australia and America, memorials seldom interrogate the politically-contested aspirations of refugees with relation to those who are already in situ. Recent public memorials tend to acknowledge heroes and victims, not queue jumpers and illegals. Andreas Huyssen calls attention to the contradictory nature of public memorial landscapes when he writes:

A society’s memory is negotiated in the social body’s beliefs and values, rituals and institutions, and in the case of modern societies in particular, it is shaped by such public sites of memory as the museum, the memorial, and the monument. Yet the promise of permanence a monument in stone will suggest is always built on quicksand. Some monuments are joyously toppled at times of social upheaval; others preserve memory in its most ossified form, either as myth or as cliche. Yet others stand simply as figures of forgetting, their meaning and original purpose eroded by the passage of time.

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