Art and Contested Memory in Athens and Skopje: A Comparative Approach

This paper approaches memory and heritage in Athens and Skopje as selective, dynamic processes. I will examine them beyond their dominant, official manifestations and through the prism of contemporary critical artistic production in (or in relation to) public spaces in both cities in the previous decade. The artworks and interventions in question were realized in moments of intensifying protests and public actions responding to economic reforms, austerity measures, official demarcations in public spaces and their hegemonic control, corruption, and the rewriting and glorification of official history.
I will critically examine artistic and architectural works that aim at challenging dominant narratives of memory in the two cities while highlighting and reactivating marginalized memories and legacies or seeking to establish new ones. I will comparatively approach critical artistic works and interventions as means of claiming contested public spaces and memory. They participate in the negotiation of what is supposed to be the realm of the sensible and preserved as public memory, as well as who has the right to define it. Artistic production, being itself in the making, reinterprets monuments and memories of the past, and proposes new ones for the future. The case studies show that artists seem to seek – in both cities with a sense of urgency – to open new possibilities for connecting with the past and envisioning the future, that is perceived as uncertain. Finally, this paper perceives artworks and their public traces as actors, questioning the idea of “static” art in a “static” city that functions as “backdrop” for action.