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Friday, May 20, 2022

Communities defy monument critics

A vast majority of local governments in Norway have accepted an anonymous donor’s offer to finance monuments to the victims of last summer’s massacre on the island of Utøya. Most feel it was a generous offer that would have been wrong to turn down, defying sculptors who felt left out of the project.

Impromptu memorials have been created since the terrorist attacks on the island of Utøya and in Oslo occurred. Now victims' communities all over the country can receive a permanent monument created by one of Norway's foremost sculptors. The island is seen in the background of this photo taken three months after the July 22 massacre. PHOTO: Views and News

Such projects normally are financed by the public sector in Norway, and involve a lengthy competitive bidding process with much debate over a monument’s design, cost and placement. In this case, an anonymous private donor cut through the normal bureaucracy, engaged one of Norway’s most well-known artists and sculptors, Nico Widerberg, to form the monument and then offered to pay for 56 versions of it – one for each of the Norwegian townships (kommuner) that lost residents who were killed in the July 22 attack.

While many local politicians, survivors and victims’ families were grateful for the unusual offer, it didn’t sit well with some members of Norway’s artistic community. The anonymous donor, backed by the national organization for local governments (Kommunenes Sentralforbund, KS), “hopped over the entire process of inviting artists to present proposals,” Gisle Harr, chairman of the sculptors’ organization Norsk Billedhoggerforening, complained to newspaper Dagsavisen. “This isn’t a democratic process. We should collect various ideas about what type of art this should be, and not least how it should be formed.”

Harr and his group also argued that monuments tied to last summer’s attacks should be public projects, not private, and that the local governments in the 56 communities should decline the anonymous donor’s offer.

‘Yes, thank you’
Only four had turned it down by Thursday’s acceptance deadline, reported newspaper Aftenposten on Friday: Oslo, Hole, Ringerike and Drammen. In both Oslo and Hole, where the attacks took place, national monuments will be raised. Ringerike lies adjacent to Hole, and local officials there said they appreciated the offer, but local survivors and residents told newspaper Ringerikes Blad that it was too soon to decide on a monument. In Drammen, local officials said they had received “mixed signals” from survivors and victims families so decided to pass on the offer.

Seven other townships have asked for more time to make a decision on accepting Widerberg’s monument, a version of which also has been offered to the municipality in Georgia where the lone non-Norwegian victim was from. Fully 44 townships in Norway have embraced the monument.

“We’re saying ‘yes, thank you’ to this generous gift,” Haugesund Mayor Petter Steen Jr of the Conservative Party told Aftenposten. “Anything else would have been wrong.” Steen is among those dismissing criticism that the project was undemocratic, noting instead that his community’s art commission “supported this 100 percent. Nico Widerberg is an exceptional artist and this will be a worthy monument.”

Saabye Christensen also involved
Widerberg’s 2.2-meter-high granite sculpture will also feature the text of a poem written by prize-winning author Lars Saabye Chrisensen just after the attacks. The date of the attacks will also be engraved on the monument, which the local communities will be in charge of placing.

Widerberg himself told Dagsavisen he was surprised by the complaints that arose over the monument project. “This is really just about a desire to contribute something (in the wake of the attacks),” Widerbeg said. “The donor has the means, is a good person and has good intentions. KS also knows who the person is.

“Some complain that when someone gives a gift, it gives them power. If the gift is anonymous, you have no power. The most important thing for me is that the national support group for those victimized by the attacks also supports this project.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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