How statues, heritage and the built environment have become the battleground for the culture wars
The past is weaponised in culture wars and cynically edited by those who wish to impose their ideology upon the physical spaces around us. Holocaust deniers use details of the ruins of the gas chambers Auschwitz to promote their lies: ‘No Holes; No Holocaust’. Yet long-standing concepts such as ‘authenticity’ in heritage are undermined and trivialised by gatekeepers such as UNESCO. At the same, time, opposition to this manipulation is being undermined by cultural ideas that prioritise memory and impressions over history and facts.
In Monumental Lies, Robert Bevan argues that monuments, architecture and cities are material evidence of history. They are the physical trace of past events, of previous ways of thinking and of politics, economics and values that percolate through to today. When our cities are reshaped as fantasies about the past, when monuments tell lies about who deserves honour or are destroyed and the struggle for justice forgotten, the historical record is being manipulated. When decisions are based on misinformed assumptions about how the built environment influences our behaviour or we are told, falsely, that certain architectural styles are alien to our cities, or when space pretends to be public but is private, or that physical separation is natural, we are being manipulated. There is a growing threat to the material evidence of the truth about history.
We are in serious trouble if we can no longer trust the tangible world around us to tell us the truth. Monumental Lies explores the threats to our understanding of the built environment and how it impacts on our lives, as well as offers solutions to how to combat the ideological manipulations.
“Robert Bevan's passionate, timely polemic is a much-needed antidote to all the horror stories about 'woke' protesters tearing down monuments. The true threat to our built-up environment, he argues, comes not from the Left, but from governments who employ all the powers of the state to re-write history in their image. It is at times a truly terrifying read.”
“This useful book connects a number of apparently disparate stories about statues and monuments and considers the various ironies of their representation and significance, past and present. A recommended read.”
“This close reading of the city is a potent response to the culture wars because it deals in precisely the historical honesty that culture warriors have no stomach for. Righteous but always nuanced, Bevan is the perfect guide to the way urban iconography distorts history and entrenches power.”
“Wide ranging and rigorous, readable and profound, this superb book argues that if we can no longer trust the tangible world around us to tell the truth, then we are in trouble. Bevan offer us solutions arguing that we need to look at ways we can layer our monuments and our city that turns sites of honour into sites of shame, that change the meaning of the past without losing altogether the vital evidence of that past from the public realm.”
“A book that makes you sit up ... powerful”
“From statues of slave traders to pictures of medieval town centres offered as evidence of "cultural superiority", architecture and public art are everywhere in a coarsened discourse. Robert Bevan...navigates the territory delicately and brilliantly”
“One of the most compelling progressive voices in the heritage world ... Using his nuanced knowledge of architectural history, he is attempting to unpick some of the myths and straight lies deployed when architecture is weaponised.”
“Bevan astutely argues that those who manipulate our cultural past are shaping our future, making the case that historic buildings have become battlegrounds for right-wing and nationalist political arguments.”
“Knowledgeable and thought-provoking”
“Topical, thought-provoking, knowledgeable about the uses and abuses of culture wars.”
“Monumental Lies could hardly be better timed ... Bevan's book is the result of many years' research and contemplation, and is thorough, extensive and provocative ... brilliant”