Manaf Halbouni

Syrian Artist Drives Pegida Up the Wall

Aufbau Skulptur «Monument»
Mr. Halbouni, 32, grew up in Damascus but studied art in Dresden. Source: Sebastian Kahnert / DPA

An art installation consisting of a row of three vertical buses in the reconstructed historical center of Dresden, in eastern Germany, has sparked intense controversy after it was unveiled this week.

The memorial, “Monument,” was created by the Syrian-German artist Manaf Halbouni. The artist said his installation was a tribute to residents of the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo, who in 2015 improvised makeshift barricades with bombed-out buses to protect themselves from gunfire.

Photographs of the upright buses protecting the inhabitants of the formerly thriving city were widely shared by news organizations and on social media.


But the opening ceremony of the artwork on Tuesday was marred by angry protests from members of the right-wing nationalist party AfD and the anti-Islam Pegida movement, which comes from Dresden. Furious crowds loudly booed Mayor Dirk Hilbert as he attempted to give a speech.

Anonymous criticism posted online has been far harsher, with some accusing Mr. Halbouni of sympathies with Islamist terror groups. The police have investigated death threats against Dresden’s mayor.

Mr. Halbouni, 32, grew up in Damascus but studied art in Dresden, the city where his Syrian father studied architecture in the 1970s and met his German mother.

He said he chose the location for the installation not only because of his connection to the Saxon capital, but also because of the history of Dresden, which was virtually destroyed in World War II.

“Monument” is part of commemorations for the 72nd anniversary of the Allied firebombing of Dresden in February 1945, three months before the end of the war in Europe. The air raids killed 25,000 people and destroyed historic Baroque churches and palaces.

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