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The Onument in the Hoog-Kortrijk Cemetery, Source: Arvid Viaene, City of Kortrijk

Ghent commemorates the victims of COVID-19 with an ‘Onument’

Ghent commemorates the victims of COVID-19 with an ‘Onument’

It's an experimental blend of memorial and landscaped public space, aimed at promoting shared moments of grief

The Belgian city of Ghent has decided to commemorate the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic by commissioning an ‘Onument’. An Onument is a circular piece of architecture and a concept designed by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets in collaboration with Moving Closer, Kunstwerkt and clinical psychologist Elke Van Hoof.

Moving Closer is an art collective combining art experiences with funeral rituals, in the belief that visual aesthetic experience can help people along the grieving process.

According to the VRT, a Belgian news platform, the Ghent Onument was championed by local psychiatrist Uus Knops, with the idea of gaining enough traction to warrant a financial commitment by the city and the Flemish government.

The piece will be installed in the Vinderhoutse forests, outside of Ghent, and will cost 50,000 euros. Dedicated to the victims of coronavirus, the new landmark is supposed to facilitate communal grieving and an acceptance of loss. Thus, it is also suitable for funerals or acts of remembrance.

Sometimes an ‘O’ is better than an ‘M’

The idea behind the Onument is to take away a certain degree of pathos from what we generally conceive as memorials and monuments in favour of a more open-spaced and functional design. In fact, Onuments are envisioned as a sort of public space that can facilitate communal grieving.

In practice, they represent circular stone blocks, partially to reinforce the idea of openness and partially to reinforce that prominent ‘O’ in the begging of the word. The installations are always designed to fit a specific space where the circular shape can be broken up by prominent natural features like rivers, large trees etc.  

At the same time, they are loosely based on funeral traditions from millennia ago, mimicking Celtic stone circles. According to Uus Knops, the mourning process when losing a loved one has been pushed away from the forefront of social interactions. This has left people to experience loss in the cocooned confines of the proverbial indoors.

Here, the Onument can help, as an outdoor communal space, where grieving in public is encouraged. The Onuments have no strict rules, people can experience them solitarily or in the company of others. They can be quiet or loud places, with small or large crowds.

Ms Knops explained that sharing the pain and sadness can form a human connection with others. She continued by stating that the ‘O’, above all, stands for openness.

Onuments are springing up across Flanders

One of the very first Onuments was constructed in 2017, in the Sonian Forest in Brussels. It is called the 22/3 Memorial. It is dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attacks in the city, which took place in the airport and the Maalbeek metro station in 2016.

More recently, cities in Flanders have been adopting the idea. The first one to specifically commemorate the victims of the Covid pandemic was unveiled in June 2021 in Kortrijk.

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