In this paper I have proposed that certain acts of iconoclasm act out a memory function, in their process of unveiling meaning behind the surface of earlier art and visual objects which themselves had served as censoring agents. The idea of censorship I have put to work is more diffuse, and in the end perhaps more intractable, than those official acts committed in cutting rooms by government agents. I have tried to show how monuments perform a kind of censorship. There are monuments in public parks, and there are cultural monuments, or icons, which are held in mind in a more personalized way by the general public. These, too, are the kinds of things that end up so often getting cast in bronze and situated in public places as concretized forms of a popular mythology. For example the popular mythology of the founding fathers, or the concept of manifest destiny -- a monumental idea about the empty landscape into which the colonizers move, justifying their actions by calling themselves settlers. If monuments of this sort censor our view of historical relationships and events, how can the symbolic or actual rubbing-out of such images, something which appears at first to be purely destructive in nature and intent, be considered also a kind of stripping-away of the censoring screen of what is commonly held to be safe to see? One thing the artists I have discussed hold in common is a desire to locate what is not represented in what is represented. For Barker: the anguish behind the innocuous scenes by Pierneef; For Dina at the Monument: the anxiety behind the concept of Afrikaaner purity; and for Rose: the strained sexual relations behind a proud image of protection and servitude.

There are many ways to unsettle a monument. One can remove the offending object, or one can detourn the meaning of the thing and reveal a new wealth of meaning by opening up previously occluded meaning. One can attempt, as Wayne Barker described it, "to pull that vision apart by bringing in other possibilities." For these artists the art attacked is a "found object". It is also a screen, pulled back through acts of desecration. This is one of the uses of iconoclasm: against censorship.

censorship and iconoclasm -- unsettling monuments

John Peffer
2003, used with the permission of the author

going commando
image breaking: wayne barker's pierneefs, 1989