15 Powerful Depictions of Women in Yugoslav Monumental Art

Updated: May 13

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.

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

Location: Topola, Serbia

Author(s): sculptor Milija Glišić

Year created: 1971

Coordinates: 44°15'02.7"N, 20°40'57.7"E

Description: Located in front of the Vineyard House just at the start of the entrance road to St. George's Church in Topola, Serbia is a monument which is titled "Stone Bouquet" (Kameni buket) which depicts four carved marble heads arranged in a circle that represent four resistance figures from WWII. The four figures depicted are Sojifa Ristić, Milan "Španac" Blagojević, Milić "Mladen" Radovanović and Darinka Radović. The most prominent of these figures is the piercing glare of a scarfed woman shown in the front. She is Darinka Radović who was from the nearby town of Kloka. After her husband was captured by the Nazis in 1941, she began to feed and provide housing for local Partisans as they passed near her home. Darinka further allowed the Partisans to dig an underground shelter beneath her home, which they used as a local base from which to conduct their operations. However, in May of 1943 Chetnik fighters overtook the region around Darinka's home and once they heard rumors about her activities, they approached her home. Upon arriving, the Chetniks demanded that Darinka reveal the location of her underground Partisan hideout (at which moment she was sheltering a wounded Partisan fighter). She refused to reveal its location. Even when the Chetniks tortured and killed both of Darinka's daughters right in front of her, she still refused to give up the location of the hideout. She was subsequently killed as well. Darinka was proclaimed a People's Hero of Yugoslavia in 1953. This monument dedicated to her was created in 1971 and continues to stand as a symbol for her defiance and bravery, however, years of neglect has resulted in it currently existing in a very poor condition.

10.) Monument to the Revolution, Kranj, Slovenia

Vintage images of one of the central sculptural works at the Monument to the Revolution at Kranj, Slovenia

Name: Monument to the Revolution

Location: Kranj, Slovenia

Author(s): sculptor Lojze Dolinar (with architect Marjan Tepina)

Year created: 1961

Coordinates: 46°14'35.0"N, 14°21'18.2"E

Description: Positioned within Slovenian Square (formerly 'Revolution Square') at center of the town of Kranj, Slovenia is a collection of four memorial sculptures which reference WWII events, as well as earlier historical uprisings. The most dramatic and evocative of these four sculpture sets is the work situated right at the northwest entrance to the square that sits atop an 8m tall pedestal that's titled "Monument to the Revolution". This work consists of a large bronze female form charging forward while her left arm is raised straight up in the air with a clenched fist. This bursting, almost flight-like motion of the figure is further dramatized with her hair and garments flowing backwards behind her, as well as her mouth wide agape as she screams unrelentingly towards her adversaries. The effectiveness that this monument operates as a symbol of freedom and unwavering liberation cannot be stressed enough, as the sculpture's powerful and feminine form bring together both the beauty and fierceness of revolutionary action. This monument continues to exist in excellent shape and is well maintained by the local community.

11.) Monument to Fallen Fighters & Victims of Fascism, Subotica, Serbia

Name: Monument to Fallen Fighters & Victims of Fascism

Location: Subotica, Serbia

Author(s): sculptor Tomi Rosandić

Year created: 1952

Coordinates: 46°05'57.0"N, 19°39'32.6"E

Description: In the Square of the Victims of Fascism in front of St. Theresa of Avila Cathedral in Subotica, Serbia is situated a memorial tomb containing the remains of local WWII victims which is known as the Monument to Fallen Fighters & the Victims of Fascism. While the primary form of this monument is a large stone wall containing a massive bronze relief sculpture, the most striking component of the monument is actually a pair of bronze sculptures positioned above the relief on top of the wall. These two sculptures in question are composed of a fallen Partisan fighter laying naked and dead upon the ground, while over top of him looms an angelic nude female figure with her arms outstretched in the process of laying a laurel wreath upon the head of the fallen fighter like a crown. This woman can be understood as a physical embodiment of the concept of 'freedom', with her granting honor and respect to those that sacrificed their lives in her name. The symbols present here are universal representations of life, death, liberty and struggle, all created expertly here in such a way as to communicate their ideas effortlessly. While the woman's depiction here is a much more traditional, almost classical romanticism, sculptural example of a divine female form exalting a fallen soldier, its beauty, power and thoughtfulness result in a highly effective and moving piece of memorial art that has endured to the present day.

12.) Monument to Strength, Glory and Victory, Skopje, N. Macedonia

A vintage 1963 post-earthquake photo of the Monument to Strength, Glory and Victory at Kale Fortress

Name: Monument to Strength, Glory and Victory

Location: Skopje, N. Macedonia

Author(s): sculptor Jordan Grabul [profile page]

Year created: 1954

Coordinates: 42°00'01.5"N, 21°25'56.5"E

Description: Situated on the ramparts of Kale Fortress overlooking the city of Skopje in present-day North Macedonia is a memorial sculpture that is officially titled "Strength, Glory and Victory". This work, which commemorates the region's victory over fascism, is composed of two central stone carved figures. The first is a woman standing tall roughly 5m who is wearing a folk costume and holding a branch of laurel leaves above her head as she stares hopefully into the distance. To her right side sits a male Partisan soldier on eternal guard. In analyzing the relationship depicted here between the woman and the Partisan, local Skopje journalist Ognen Janeski explains that the soldier "would not survive in difficult conditions without the constant hiding, nurturing of wounds and nourishment by the pillars of the house - the woman and the girls who played a key role in not only their support, but also in the very struggle on the ground within the trenches." So, in this sculptural depiction by Grabul, it is the woman here who is seen standing tall, carrying the weight of freedom as she looks out over the city. As an aside, it is interesting to point out that the ruins behind the monument in the above black and white photo are from part of the fortress that was destroyed in the 1963 Skopje earthquake. While the fortress around the monument fell, the monument remained standing. The fortress was rebuilt in the 2010s.

13.) Monument to Freedom, Fruška Gora, Serbia

A vintage postcard showing the Monument to Freedom at Fruška Gora, Serbia.

Name: Monument to Freedom

Location: Fruška Gora National Park, Serbia

Author(s): sculptor Sreten Stojanović

Year created: 1951

Coordinates: 45°09'09.5"N, 19°50'23.7"E

Description: Roughly 21km north of Sremska Mitrovica is the entrance to Fruška Gora National Park. Existing as a long rolling mountain range in northern Srem just south of the Danube River, this heavily forested mountain region was a major stronghold for the Partisan rebels during WWII to such a degree that parts of the Fruška Gora remained as free unoccupied territory throughout the entirety of the war. In 1960, Fruška Gora was set up as Serbia's first national park. Many sites of significance related to Partisan efforts across these mountains during the war were commemorated during the Yugoslav era, with the most significant being the massive "Monument to Freedom" obelisk at the Iriški Venac mountain pass. The centerpiece of this memorial work is at roughly 4m tall bronze figurative sculpture which is placed atop the 26m tall obelisk. The sculpture depicts a modestly dressed woman who is standing upright making a sweeping and dramatic arm gesture. Sources describe her as operating as a symbolic embodiment of liberty and victory, with her dynamic gesture representing the call to action and uprising that was heeded by the people of the region. Furthermore, her bare feet and simple agrarian attire affirms that her "victory" and "revolution" are products for and by the country's working-class people.

14.) Monument to Female Hostages, Begunje, Slovenia

Name: Monument to Women Hostages

Location: Begunje, Slovenia

Author(s): sculptor Boris Kalin

Year created: Early 1950s

Coordinates: 46°22'42.2"N, 14°12'03.5"E

Description: In a memorial area next to Katzenstein Castle in Begunje, Slovenia is a cemetery dedicated to innocent civilians who were taken hostage by Nazi troops during WWII and imprisoned in the castle, only to be later executed as reprisal killings in response to Partisan offensives. During WWII, over 850 civilians were executed in such a way here at Katzenstein Castle, with roughly half of them being under the age of 30. When a memorial cemetery honoring these executed hostages was established at the castle in the early 1950s, Slovene sculptor Boris Kalin created a set of two sculptures within the cemetery called "Prisoners", a man and a woman, which are dedicated to the lives which were brutally taken here. The female hostage sculpture is composed of a roughly 3-4m tall figurative form carved from white stone crafted with a high amount of physical detail. The woman is bound around her arms and hands. She is dressed like a simple villager and is barefoot, indicating her working class status. She is seen here steeping forward thrusting up her chest as she stares longingly into the sky, indicating that this scene might represent her standing in her final moments at her own execution as she defiantly refuses to cower in fear, but instead stands up tall and proud ready to accept her fate and die for a cause she believes in.

15.) Mother and Child, Osijek, Croatia

A vintage photo showing the Mother and Child monument in the center of Osijek, Croatia

Name: Mother & Child

Location: Osijek, Croatia

Author(s): sculptor Oscar Nemon

Year created: 1965

Coordinates: 45°33'27.8"N, 18°40'59.5"E

Description: Near the center of the town of Osijek, Croatia at Oscar Nemon Park on Gaj Square is a monument dedicated to the WWII victims of fascism which is titled "Mother & Child" (Majka i dijete). In addition, this work is also sometimes referenced as "Monument to the Jews of Osijek and Slavonia", as it specifically commemorates the region's Jewish community who were killed during WWII. This work was crafted by Osijek-born Jewish sculptor Oscar Nemon, who is often recognized as one of the most important Croatian sculptors of the 20th century. Cast in bronze, this sculpture is composed of a central enlogated pillar that extends upwards 2m at which point it develops into the a female figure who is holding a small baby up into the air and staring up towards the child lovingly. A recent paper by Daniel Zec relates the words of Oscar Nemon himself in reference to the symbolism of his work "My sculpture does not represent a judgemental view, quite the contrary; it is a figure exppressing enthusiasm and vitality symbolizing the never-ending yearning of the Jews for philanthropy. The symbol of motherhood is a symbol understood throughout the world." As such, the woman in here can be understood as an optimistic symbol reaching upwards for a bright future after so many years of death and darkness. As Nemon says, the symbol of mother with her young child is a universal representation of continuation, of moving forward, of a hopeful future. Interestingly, Zec also points out in his paper that this is the only monument in a public city space within Croatia which honors the Jewish victims of WWII.

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