16 Powerful Depictions of Women in Yugoslav Monumental Art

Updated: Mar 6

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 of Biokovo, Drašnice, Croatia

A close up look at the Monument to the Women of Biokovo, Drašnice, Croatia. Credit: Carla Maruscha
A view of the Monument to the Women of Biokovo, Drašnice, Croatia. Credit: Carla Maruscha

Name: Monument to the Women of Biokovo

Location: Drašnice, Croatia

Author(s): artist Joko Knežević

Year created: 1974

Coordinates: N43°13'03.7", E17°06'35.7"

Description: Roughly 4km southeast along the Adriatic coast from the town of Podgora you will come across the seaside village of Drašnice. In the village center is located a small WWII memorial which is called the "Monument to the Women of Biokovo" (Spomenik Žena Biokovka). This memorial work is intended to honor the women of the region who fought and gave their lives during the fascist oppression which plagued the region of Biokovo during WWII. The central element of the monument is a sizeable mosaic tile wall (~2m x 3m) which depicts a woman standing in front of a firing squad as she opens her shirt defiantly baring her chest to her executioners, all as villagers in the background watch mournfully. While it is not clear if a similar style of execution occurred at this location in Drašnice, academic researcher Sanja Horvatinčić points out in her writing that this scene may be modeled after the paintings of the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. Bravely standing up against fascist oppression as she stared down the barrel of her executioner's guns, the woman shown in this mosaic acts as a quintessential symbol for the idea of standing up for freedom even against the most oppressive of forces.

5.) Freedom Monument, Srbobran, Serbia

A close-up view of the Freedom Monument at Srbobran, Serbia. Credit: personal photo
A vintage postcard view of the Freedom Monument at Srbobran, Serbia.

Name: Monument to Freedom

Location: Srbobran, Serbia

Author(s): sculptor Stevan Bodnarov

Year created: 1957

Coordinates: N45°32'42.5", E19°47'27.9"

Description: In the middle of Srbobran Park in the town center of Srbobran, Serbia, roughly 30 km north of Novi Sad, is a memorial sculptural work that commemorates local fallen fighters and victims of fascism from WWII. This work is located directly in front of the Temple of the Holy Epiphany and consists of a 3m tall bronze figurative sculpture of a woman with her arms extended, holding out a bouquet in her left hand while gesturing victoriously with her other. She is dressed simply and modestly as she can be seen staring off optimistically into the distance — her features are artfully defined, revealing a beautiful young face. She stands upon a 10m tall pedestal overlooking the square in a jubilant triumphant manner, continuing up until present day to unquestionably stand as a symbol of freedom for the entire town.

6.) Monument to Women Fighters, Tetovo, N. Macedonia

A vintage photo of the Monument to Women Fighters at Tetovo. Credit: 'Revoluciarno Kiparstvo' book, 1977

Name: Monument to Women Fighters

Location: Tetovo, N. Macedonia

Author(s): sculptor Borka Avramova

Year created: 1961

Coordinates: 42°00'34.0"N, 20°58'19.5"E

Description: Situated directly in front of the Cultural Centre "Iljo Anteski Smok" in the town of Tetovo is the Monument to Women Fighters, which is dedicated to the memory and legacy of the many women fighters across the Macedonia region who took part and perished during the People's Liberation Struggle (WWII). The central element of the complex is a 4-5m tall bronze figurative sculpture of a woman who is named "Pobeda" (Victory). She stands proudly as she gazes off intensely into the distance while she holds her right hand down at her side, clenched strongly. Her defiant appearance radiates a sense of power and passion, symbolizing a woman that is ready to fight and take back the freedom which was taken from her. This dramatic work was created by local female sculptor Borka Avramova, who often experimented with creating female forms which operated as a synthesis between modern and traditional sculptural styles. It is interesting to point out that when compared to many of the monuments depicting female subjects in Yugoslav memorial sculpture, this work is a rare example created by a woman, illustrating the fact that while women were indeed being widely depicted in commemorative art in Yugoslavia, the artistic work itself was something being largely undertaken by men.

7.) Monument to Executed Youth, Jastreb, Montenegro

A view of the Monument to Executed Youth in Jastreb, Montenegro. Credit: personal photo
A vintage historic photo of the Monument to Executed Youth in Jastreb, Montenegro

Name: Monument to Executed Youth

Location: Jastreb, Montenegro

Author(s): sculptor Drago Đurović and architect Vojislav Đokić

Year created: 1959

Coordinates: 42°32'06.8"N, 19°08'02.7"E

Description: About 3km southeast of the town of Danilovgrad is the small village of Jastreb (in an area called 'Lazine'), just south of the Zeta River. On the rural northern outskirts of the village along the main road is a small monument complex which is dedicated to 52 Danilovgrad youth who were executed during WWII at this spot by German occupational forces on July 23rd, 1944. The central element of this memorial is a roughly 7m tall bronze figurative sculpture depicting a young women wearing a long dress. She stands in a dynamic pose, with her right arm arced over her head and her left arm extended outward horizontally with its hand clenched in a fist. Her legs appear bound and her body language is that of defiance and rebellion. Her powerful and dramatic stance symbolizes the youth who were executed at this spot, where even in their final moments, they stood up against tyranny and oppression. The complex was restored and rehabilitated in 2016 by local authorities and official annual commemorative events continue to be held here.

8.) Monument to the Revolution, Kumanovo, N. Macedonia

A vintage postcard showing the grounds of the Monument to the Revolution in Kumanovo

Name: Monument to the Revolution

Location: Kumanovo, N. Macedonia

Author(s): sculptor Sretan Stojanović & architect Koča Zordumis

Year created: 1957

Coordinates: 42°08'43.0"N, 21°43'21.2"E

Description: Along the road to Kriva Palanka just on the north limits of the city of Kumanovo is a memorial complex and ossuary known as the "Monument to the Revolution". This complex commemorates the WWII 1941 popular uprising of Vardar Macedonia against occupying Axis forces, while also containing an ossuary that holds the remains of over 300 of the region's fallen fighters. The central element of this monument complex is a roughly 8m tall bronze sculpture of a proud peasant woman in traditional. She holds above her head some nature of wreath (possibly a bundle of olive branches) as she stares out stoically towards the city of Kumanovo in the distance. She is sculpted with modest details, yet the symbol of strength and freedom which she embodies can clearly be recognized. Her victoriously up-stretched arms and offerings of peace after a time of war and bloodshed can universally be understood as a testament to the many lives lost by the people of Kumanovo who fought for liberation of this region. Today this site sits in a deteriorating condition, yet recent reporting indicates that efforts are currently underway to rehabilitate this complex.

A recent photo of the Monument to Women Fighters in Kumanovo. Credit: Zoran Stankovski

Also in Kumanovo is an additional WWII monument which titled "Monument to Women Fighters", which is located in the central city square of Kumanovo. Created in 1962 by Croatian sculptor Kosta Angeli Radovani (along with architect Marian Haberle), this work is apart of the "Monument to the Revolution" collection of commemorative works located here in the city's main gathering area, however, Radovani & Haberle's work stands as the most conspicuous and eye-catching sculpture of the group. In crafting his depiction of the Macedonian female fighter, Radovani presents a conservatively dressed woman in traditional head scarf and garb, standing tall, proudly, looking out solemnly over the square with her hands clasped behind her back. The style in which she is crafted, carved from dark stone, is highly stylized, emphasizing the form's subtle gestures and shapes rather than focusing on formalistic realism. In doing so, Radovani creates a monument that both exalts women's contribution during the war, but also fashions as sculpture that communicates uplifting victory with its tapering vertical dimension. This work continues to exist in good condition and hosts regular ceremonial events. Its exact coordinates are 42°08'07.5"N, 21°43'11.9"E.

9.) The Stone Bouquet, Topola, Serbia

A recent photo of the Stone Bouquet monument located in Topola, Serbia. Credit: personal photo

Name: The Stone Bouquet