22. juli-senteret

Memorials and debate

Over time, official memorials of wars, catastrophes or terrorist attacks, such as 22 July, have become familiar parts of the landscape. Memorials are specific places where people, both those directly affected and the public at large, can go to commemorate and process the past. However, such memorials also have another important function; they tell us that this has happened, and often, that it has happened in this exact place. Many memorials are thus linked to the site of an historical event.

Official memorials are designed and constructed in materials that signal endurance. History is carved into steel and stone and what can be commemorated in the public space has authority – it has happened. Hidden and forgotten memorials are often seen as a battle between different communities of memory, about the power of definition and formation of identity. The nation state is just one possible delimitation for a given community of memory, but through the artistic style and location chosen, the presence as much as the absence of such national memorials says something about how the official authorities embed the incident in the nation’s collective memory.

The Norwegian Government decided as early as in December 2011 that national memorials would be erected after 22 July, both in the government building complex and in Hole municipality near Utøya.

In 2014, Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg won the competition for the design of three memorials: Memory Wound, which would be erected at the Sørbråten peninsula on the mainland facing Utøya, Time and Movement and Dialogue for the Future. The two latter were proposals for a temporary and a permanent memorial, respectively, at the government building complex.

Disagreement arose about the memorial Memory Wound on the Sørbråten peninsula, where Dahlberg wanted to cut a gap into the peninsula itself. The names of those who had lost their lives on 22 July were to be carved into the face of the cut on one of the walls. On the other wall, a gallery would be installed from which visitors could read the names carved there at a distance out of reach.

Dahlberg’s design was applauded by artists and art critics in Norway and abroad. The artistic expression of the memorial has similarities to other memorials commemorating major human-inflicted catastrophes, such as the Holocaust and 9/11. Many believed that the wound in the landscape succeeded in representing an incident that was, in principle, too brutal and troubling to represent.

Its reception in Hole municipality was somewhat varied. Some neighbours who had also participated in rescue efforts on 22 July perceived the cut in the landscape to be too drastic and invasive. They warned that they would take legal action against the government to prevent the memorial from coming to fruition. The case led to widespread debate and media attention. In June 2017, the Government decided that the national memorial in Hole municipality would be erected by the Utøya dock

on the mainland. The whole contract with Jonas Dahlberg was terminated.

Although the Memory Wound memorial was not to become a reality, it has nonetheless been recognised as a contribution to the immense joint remembrance efforts and collective debate post-22 July, not least through the circulation of the memorial sketch through digital channels. In her PhD thesis, Ingeborg Hjorth argued that the memorial today can be described as a virtual memorial.

Debates surrounding the Memory Wound revealed different communities of thought as regards to the memorialisation of 22 July.


Other memorials after 22 July

Shortly after 22 July, an anonymous donor assigned sculptor Nico Widerberg the task of designing a memorial for all Norwegian municipalities that had lost someone in the terror attack. The process relating to this memorial was also subject to debate. The design was criticised for being unoriginal and for resembling some of Widerberg’s previous works. Critics argued that the process was undemocratic since it had not been open to competition, and found it problematic that the donor was anonymous. Nevertheless, 53 municipalities accepted the offer, while Oslo, Hole, Drammen and Trondheim municipalities declined.


Terra Incognita

The memorial in Trondheim designed by Anders Krüger and Marianne Levinsen was unveiled at Tordenskiolds plass  on 18 October 2016. The people of Trondheim were involved in the process leading up to the memorial, and this is clearly reflected in the selection of texts written by children from the local Lade and Rosten schools that are engraved onto one of the memorial’s concrete ‘islands’.



Lysningen is Utøya’s own memorial, consisting of a large circle in the northern part of the island. The names and ages of those killed on Utøya on 22 July have been punched into a steel ring, which hangs from the pine trees surrounding the clearing about a metre and a half above the ground. The names can be read when walking around the clearing. This means that no names come first or last. The national memorials on the Sørbråten peninsula and in Oslo have public functions. Lysningen, however, is a more private place for survivors, bereaved and next of kin, who have also been involved in its planning and design.



The Jernrosene (‘Iron roses’) memorial was unveiled outside Oslo Cathedral on 28 September 2019. The spontaneous sea of roses that emerged in front of the cathedral after 22 July 2011 inspired artists Tobbe Malm and Tone Karlsrud to invite blacksmiths from across to world, as well as survivors, surviving family members and others affected by the attacks, to forge roses. Around a thousand roses have been mounted in a circle of white concrete. The smallest are just 10 cm high while the biggest weigh nearly 10 kilos. The roses forged by survivors and next of kin have been placed in the middle of the memorial, while the other roses surround and protect them.

A hundred of the most delicate roses have been welded onto one of Oslo Cathedral’s candle holders in the north nave of the church, where visitors can light a candle.


The temporary national memorial in the government building complex

A temporary national memorial has been erected in Johan Nygaardsvolds plass square by Lindealléen, not far from the entrance to the high-rise building. The memorial was unveiled on 22 July 2018. It will function as the national memorial until the new government building complex has been completed. The location and design of the permanent memorial have yet to be decided. The main element of the memorial is a wall showing the names and ages of all 77 people who were killed in the government building complex and on Utøya on 22 July 2011.

Glass and light are recurring elements of the design. Glass has been used to symbolise the shattered windows from the surrounding buildings that covered the streets on Friday 22 July 2011.

The memorial is open during the renovation of the government building complex. It was designed by architects at 3RW Arkitekter, on assignment from Statsbygg.



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Hjorth, I. (2019) Memory Wound: Minnested mellom virkelighet og virtualitet. Norsk medietidsskrift 26(03):1-19.

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