On November 2, 2004, the provocative film director and publicist Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim fanatic. The assassination occurred in Amsterdam, in the context of Van Gogh’s habit of commenting bluntly on just about everything, including Muslims, and his film Submission, which highlights the relation between the abuse of Muslim women and the Koran. A large ephemeral memorial took shape on the spot where Van Gogh died in the days that followed.
Taking the Van Gogh memorial as its empirical focus, this paper attempts to broaden the prevalent perspective of ephemeral memorials as localised spatialities by approaching them as performative, mediatised spaces that supersede their material boundaries. In this perspective, ephemeral memorials appear as ritualised sites that not only ‘are’ but at the same time ‘act’ and interact with the social reality that constitutes them. This contribution highlights the interdependency between specific practices of mourning, the sites that evolve from it and the hierarchies and power relationships involved in the media coverage. The article frames the material development of the Van Gogh memorial during the one week of its existence together with its development as a medium within the contemporary Dutch public debate. It draws its major theoretical inspiration from Victor Turner’s ‘social drama’, and Nick Couldry’s ‘myth of the mediated centre’.