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16 Powerful Depictions of Women in Yugoslav Monumental Art

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

From the very beginning of the creation of the socialist state of Yugoslavia, the inalienable rights of women were enshrined in this new country's constitution. Even during the course of the the antifascist uprising of the war itself, women played a central role, not only in support but also in fighting. As such, the rights of women being so central to the new Yugoslav state was a natural continuation of the equality that was foundational from the very start of the Yugoslav Partisan's resistance movement. Over 100,000 women directly fought within Tito's Partisan detachments during WWII, of which roughly 25,000 were killed. When the process of monument and memorial creation began in Yugoslavia in the years directly after the end of WWII, the depiction of women, as well as monuments dedicated specifically to the efforts and sacrifice of women, was a component central to this task. Though, the inclusion of women in such monuments was expanded well beyond just the traditional depictions of 'mothers', 'angels', and 'mourners'... they also included depictions of women as warriors, as fighters, as leaders. The extent to which women were depicted in empowering roles within WWII memorial architecture in Yugoslavia surpassed what was seen not only in the West (of which there was very little), and may have even been more than what was seen in the Soviet Union at that time. Last year Guardian writer Clare Wright asked in an article headline "Where are the memorials to our female freedom fighters?"...look no further than the landscape of the former Yugoslavia.

[left] A famous 1943 photo of Partisan fighter Milja Marin, [right] Partisans of the 1st Battalion of the 4th Proletarian Brig. on Sutjeska, 1942

In this article we will explore some of the most notable and iconic monuments works that were built during the Yugoslav-era which all artfully depict women in their various wartime capacities, in forms of honorific memorialization, as well as monuments which were dedicated as spaces for the commemoration of the heroic deeds and sacrifices women made during the war.


1.) Monument to the Liberation of the Delta, Rijeka, Croatia

A vintage postcard view of the Monument to the Liberation at Rijeka

Name: Monument to the Liberation of the Delta

Location: Rijeka, Croatia

Author: sculptor Vinko Matković (with sculptor Raoul Goldoni)

Year created: 1955

Coordinates: 45°19'35.5"N, 14°26'52.5"E

Description: Located on the Adriatic waterfront at the city center of Rijeka, between the Rječina River and the Dead Canal, is the Monument to the Liberation of the Delta. Comprised of a group of 4m tall sculptures perched atop a 16m tall stone pillar, this work is the most significant WWII monument in the city. Of the three large bronze figures, two crouched male Partisan fighters armed with rifles are positioned on the right and left, while standing tall in the center of the group is a female Partisan fighter. Her dramatic stance is expressive and dynamic, dominating the scene as she steps up thrusting her clenched left fist forward while gesturing backwards with her open right hand as if to wave onward an entire army waiting on her signal. The name given to this central female figure by its author Vinko Matković was "Pobede" (Victory), who is quoted as describing her form as "personifying the strength and greatness of freedom". Her expression, framed by a Partisan cap and long flowing hair, is well defined in the bronze, communicating both determination and an unwavering confidence. This monument remains in excellent condition up to the present day.


2.) Partisan Mother, Novi Grad, BiH

A vintage postcard photo of the "Partisan Mother" monument at Novi Grad, BiH

Name: Partisan Mother

Location: Novi Grad (formerly 'Bosanski Novi'), Bosnia & Herzegovina

Author(s): Marijan Kocković [profile page]

Year created: 1964

Coordinates: N45°02'53.2", E16°22'46.5"

Description: Atop a forested hill in the center of the town of Novi Grad (formerly Bosanski Novi) is situated a monument which is titled "Majka Partizanka" (Partisan Mother). The central element of this monument from which its title derives is the 6-7m tall bronze sculpture of a female form rising above the scene. The Partisan Mother symbolizes the matronly figure who watches out for, nurtures and protects her Partisan children. Bare chested and exposed (perhaps symbolizing her vulnerability), she looks out with a intense stare into the distance with a face that reflects strength and resolve, yet also fear and the passion for those who she fights for. Her arms are stretched in an unusual pose above her head, with her two hands clasped tight around her long hair which then flows abruptly down her right arm. It is unclear what symbolic message this stance is meant to communicate. Little information is available about this monument, while it has also fallen into a state of neglect in recent decades during the post-Yugoslav era.


3.) Monument to Women Fighters & Victims, Vraca Memorial Park, Sarajevo, BiH

A recent photo of the Monument to Women Fighters & Victims at Vraca Memorial Park in Sarajevo. Credit: personal photo
Vintage Yugoslav-era image of the Monument to Women Fighters & Victims at Vraca Park in Sarajevo

Name: Monument to Women Fighters & Victims at Vraca Memorial Park

Location: Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Author(s): architect Vladimir Dobrović and artist Alija Kučukalić

Year created: 1981

Coordinates: 43°50'41.6"N, 18°24'06.6"E

Description: At the far east end of the Vraca Memorial Park [profile page] in Sarajevo is a monument which commemorates the female fighters and victims of Sarajevo who fell during the People's Liberation Struggle (WWII). The monument consists of a 4m tall bronze sculpture depicting a women with her arms defiantly raised to the sky. Her head is tilted upwards towards the sky almost as if she is screaming into the heavens demanding freedom. While the features of the sculpture are only faintly defined, meant to be representative of all fallen women victims of the war, many believe this work specifically depicts Radojka Lakić, a famous female leader of the Sarajevo underground communist resistance who was executed near this location at Vraca in September of 1941. Her remains are interred at the Tomb of the City's National Heroes there at Vraca Memorial Park. Currently, the sculpture sits in very poor condition, most notably because the sculpture is defaced and its right arm was broken off by vandals in 2013. Authorities later recovered the bronze arm and reports have long indicated that there are plans to have it soon reattached, but as of 2020, her arm is still missing.


4.) Monument to the Women o