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Speak Memory 1

Speak Memory 1

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Published by Jonathan Zilberg
This is a photo-essay referring to the various memorials to be found in London along the Thames in the Embankment Gardens.
This is a photo-essay referring to the various memorials to be found in London along the Thames in the Embankment Gardens.

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Published by: Jonathan Zilberg on Sep 16, 2011
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11/24/2012

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Speak Memory I
On Memorials and Documentaries
Memorials are visual structures set in public spaces to recall history and remember the dead.Documentaries (see
Speak Memory II 
 ) can serve a similar purpose. But in contrast to theemotional and intellectual effect documentaries have on us, how often do we walk by memorials without deeply acknowledging the suffering and sacrifice they are intended toremind us of? And how little do we know of the events memorialized in either case? Forthe most part, are we largely unaware, unmoved and distanced from the history of war, evenof recent paroxysms of organized human malice as considered in the Serbian and Congocases. In speaking to this, these linked photo essays revisit a few memorials in passing as atourist might along the Thames Embankment in London or at Kew Gardens, overlooking Plymouth harbor or across the Atlantic on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.How often do we pass by such memorials or pass over showing such films in classes, themultitude of wars and war crimes, rampant human rights violations ongoing, safely out of sight and out of mind?
Dawn on the Embankment
 When I am in London, I find myself drawn before dawn to the embankment. I wait therefor the sun to rise over the Thames, sometimes with Conrad’s opening lines to
The Heart of Darkness 
in mind, the whole history of colonialism and empire ingathering. Perhaps yourecall the “mournful gloom”, the “brooding motionless”, the “benign immensity” – “theserenity” and “tranquil dignity”.
 
  As the early light whitens the ancient twice plundered Pharonic obelisk my thoughts shiftfrom J. M. W. Turner’s oil paintings and draft water color sketches of the Thames and theHouse of Parliament in flames to Napolean’s Egyptian campaign. There the exquisitely executed Orientalist paintings of Gerome always come to mind. And as the bright rays of theday strike the golden eagles wings on the World War Two memorial, slowly, gently, thelowermost words “I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you unto myself” begin tolighten.
 
 Thus in London on the embankment waiting for dawn, at Kew Gardens and in Washington,D.C., waiting to enter into archives and libraries or for the effects of remaining light at theend of the day, I have found myself around war memorials capturing moments that speak memory to me - words and images, thoughts that travel across time and place asunconstrained as butterflies. Here then a few disparate images of memorials and gardens thatrecall and speak to the fragility and beauty of life in contrast to all the horror revisited in thethree documentaries related to war in
Speak Memory II 
. Across the road from the World War Two Memorial on the banks of the Thames, yet un- warmed by the day, in the well kept park across the road, the morning dew is yet fresh onthe memorial sculptures. There pink tulips are subtly opening by the Fawcett memorial,between there and Whitehall, the whole history of public works, social consciousness andEmpire evoked. There we stroll past a history of capitalism and colonialism, of public andprivate gardens as Karl Marx might have on his way to the British Museum. If you know thispark, you might now then recall these memorials to commemorate the various historicevents and important figures in education and welfare placed tastefully along the way.My mind is in motion. It flits across images in history and art, word and image marking moments along the trajectories of the rise and fall of empires. Book after particular book,Ruskin, paintings by Turner and Gerome, a film, a photograph, all manner of works of artconstantly intrude on the conversations in my inner landscape. Sometimes particular scenesin films and documentaries replay unbidden. Is it not the same with you? Towards Whitehall, the camel corps memorial, bronzed power twists. Have you everstopped there and wondered where is Romani or Baharja, Mazar or Daklah? Who died therein 1916, how and why? What happened on Hill 265 in 1917? Of-course, you recognizesome of the places such as Gaza and Amman, the Jordan Valley. But who knows whereMudawara is? And why should you care unless you are Palestinian or Jordanian or Jewish oran Oxford don studying the final conquest and partition of the Ottoman Empire?

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