In March 2015, Syrian Reuters photographer Ammar Abdullah photographed three bus wrecks without wheels and drive shafts mounted on his back, blocking a shopping street in his hometown of Aleppo. A flag of the Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham flew on top of the center upright bus, but various media reported only that civilians were hiding behind the buses for snipers.
In 2017, the image formed the basis of a work of art by the German-Syrian artist Manaf Halbouni (Damascus, 1984). More precisely: in front of a peace monument in Dresden, where the bombing of the Allies was reminded, which on the night between 13 and 14 February 1945 killed almost 25,000.
It was no coincidence that Halbouni’s three buses – not burnt out, but German city buses on wheels – stood in front of the Frauenkirche on the Neumarkt, a symbol of Dresden’s revival after the destruction during World War II. According to Halbouni, the 12-meter-high work of art was to be seen as a universal monument of hope for war-torn countries that will one day rise from the ashes again.
Top cut off
Halbouni had not seen the black-and-white Ahrar al-Sham flag: from the picture in The Guardian the top was cut off. “But I do not care either, because those buses were put down to protect the civilian population, so that everyday life would get back on track. My work does not focus on any party fighting there. So many parties are entangled in it. What is more important is life. Therefore, this work is what matters, and not about the warring parties. ”
The city of Dresden and part of the local middle class supported the project, but criticism was heard from the extreme right wing. In particular, the local branch of the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), which for years has argued for a worthy monument to the German victims, spoke shamefully about this temporary monument to the Syrian victims.
Despite protests and online threats against the mayor, the monument remained standing. In fact, it was resurrected a few months later at another historically charged site: at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Against terror and war and for solidarity and peace. And to commemorate the March Revolution of 1848, when German revolutionaries marched on the barricades to enforce reforms.
Hope, freedom and humanity
And now the three German buses are pontifical at the NDSM quay. NDSM-werf Foundation asks with Halbouni’s Monument not only focus on the war in Syria, but also on Ukraine and other hot spots in the world. The work represents hope, freedom and humanity, according to curator Petra Heck: “War situations, crises, refugee flows; the attention disappears as soon as the news is taken over by other newsworthy events. ”
Halbouni’s 2017 work referred to Syria and Syrians at the time. “But it is still relevant when you think of reception in, for example, the Netherlands, of the unequal situations that arise in different refugee flows, of who can start working immediately and who cannot. And only refugees have arrived, as now from Ukraine. The balancing buses stand proud, fragile and at the same time powerful with their noses up, not to forget war zones and victims. Or as one of my friends put it: as one highway to heaven. ”
Monument presented in the program series (U) monument. Key questions in this series are: what should or could a monument be today, for whom, and who determines this? In the same series, the Spanish street artist SpY presents his latest work of art from 1 to 25 September Blanket. Halbouni’s buses will remain on NDSM Square until 28 August.