Updated: Dec 29, 2020
The practice of large scale mosaic art in the geographic region of the former Yugoslavia has a history going back thousands of years, from the villas of the Roman time period, to the artwork of the Abrahamic religions and well beyond. As such, when time came in the newly formed Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1945 to begin establishing its own practices for creating memorial works to honor the events of WWII, it is thus not surprising that mosaic art was employed as one of the creative conduits for this task. However, this output of memorial mosaic art did not begin right away in Yugoslavia. Previous to WWII, mosaic art in this region was mainly reserved for sacral and religious art, so it was not until the 1960s that the country's artists truly began exploring this means of expression as a tool for honoring fallen fighters, victims of fascism and the socialist revolution. At that point, massive mosaic works dedicated to such ideas began to manifest in numerous location across the country created by a multitude of artists and craftsmen. While only comprising a small amount of the total monumental output of Yugoslavia, this artistic trend of mosaic memorial creation continued up until right before the dismantling of the country in the early 1990s.
Yet, it must be noted that when looking at the dynamic output of memorial and public mosaic art created in European socialist nations during the mid-to-late 20th century, Yugoslavia is not necessarily the first country that comes to mind (with it much more being remembered for its creation of highly ambitious abstract concrete monuments). It is instead the Soviet sphere, specifically Ukraine, which is much more often remembered for its impressive commemorative and political mosaic art, with whole websites and books dedicated to the subject. However, just as with their monuments, Soviet mosaics were also an art form restrained by the rules and ideological bonds of the Soviet government's Socialist Realism artistic theory. Yet, in the case of Yugoslavia (who also adhered to Socialist Realism initially), the country's President Josip Broz Tito instigated a political split with the USSR's Stalin in 1948, which resulted in all things Soviet, including Socialist Realism art theory, slowly fading from mainstream cultural practices. So, while this artistic shift not only affected memorial sculpture (as this website well documents), it is important to mention that it also affected other artistic expressions such as mosaic art. As a result, the memorial mosaic art of Yugoslavia looks hugely and dramatically different than the Soviet-era mosaics you might find, for example, in a mosaic-dense region like Ukraine.
However, while much has been done to look at Ukrainian and other Soviet-sphere mosaics comparatively and as a unique body of artistic work, this has not yet been done for the memorial mosaics of Yugoslavia. While I have written about a significant numbers of mosaic art memorials in great detail through my development of the Spomenik Database website, I have not yet brought a large number of them together to be examined and evaluated as a group. In looking at them in this way, it is illuminating to observe the restraints of Socialist Realism slowly being shed over the decades and the artists beginning to indulge in a free reign of creative expression when approaching their design of their mosaic memorials. For instance, while some of the earlier Yugoslav works are more traditional and austere (more in line with Socialist Realism), such as the 1957 work at Ivanjica by Đorđe Andrejević-Kun, by the 70s and the 80s, such artists as Gligor Čemerski and Petar Mazev are fully immersed within abstract expression and deconstructed figurative depictions. But at the same time, it is interesting to note how other mosaic artists use their creative freedom to explore the realm of folk art or even choose to maintain certain artistic aspects of Socialist Realism.
In this article, we will start by examining the very earliest memorial mosaic art which manifested in Yugoslavia during its early years, while following the progression of mosaic monuments up until their last incarnations in the 1980s.
1953: Monument to the Victims of Rab Concentration Camp, Rab Island, Croatia
Name: Monument to the Victims of the Rab Concentration Camp
Location: Kampor, Rab Island, Croatia
Author(s): artist Marij Pregelj
Year created: 1953
Coordinates: 44°46'58.7"N, 14°42'41.9"E
Description: The Rab Concentration Camp was a WWII Italian-run facility near the town of Kampor on Rab Island that operated from July 1942 to July 1943. The camp primarily housed civilian Croats, Slovenes and Jews, with sources indicating that several thousand perished here during the war. A memorial complex and cemetery was established here after the war in 1953, designed by famous Slovene architect Edvard Ravnikar. One of the elements integrated into the memorial space was a large canopy covered mosaic wall created by Slovene artist Marij Pregelj. This work was among the first major memorial mosaic projects completed in the new socialist Yugoslavia, making it a unique example of the emergence of the country's mosaic art style.
The work is composed of two suffering and emaciated figures stretched out horizontal in either direction, both meant to depict Rab concentration camp victims. The upper of the two figures clearly seems to be symbolic of a "Christ-like" figure, very akin to "pietà" depictions of Christ, as the mosaic figure has a similar frail body, white loin cloth and chains on the hands and feet possibly representing Christ's "Holy Wounds". The figure stares at and reaches towards the Yugoslav red star at the right corner of the scene, no doubt as a way of conveying that from here is where salvation is achieved. The bottom figure hangs his head low as he faces towards the left of the scene, where we see an Italian Fasces and gallows at the left corners, both surrounded by burning houses, vicious wolves (representing the Italian occupiers) and dead horses (representing lost of freedom). Also seen on the left are burning hay racks (representing suffering Slovenes) and burning oak trees (representing suffering Croatians). As the tiles move to the right, the horses come back to life (representing newly found freedom), while the wolves die, which rejuvinates all elements of the scene. Next to the red star is a tile showing two oak trees joined by a triple peaked mountain, which represents unity between Croatians and Slovenes (as the mountain stands for Triglav, the most important Slovene symbol). This work serves as a pivotal early example of Yugoslav commemorative mosaic art in a post-Socialist Realism landscape while also hinting at this new country's burgeoning artistic direction.
1956: Monument to Fallen Fighters, Vranjic, Croatia
Name: Monument to Fallen Fighters
Location: Vranjic, Croatia
Author(s): Marinko Benzon
Year created: 1956
Coordinates: N43°31'53.5", E16°27'50.5"
Description: Roughly 4km north of the Split Old City is the small village of Vranjic, situated on a narrow rock outcrop that juts into the bay. Just as you enter the village passing over the causeway, you will see a beautiful memorial mosaic installed into a curved stone wall which is dedicated to about 60 local victims who perished during WWII/People's Liberation Struggle. Created in 1956 by local Vranjic artist Marinko Benzon, this vibrant mosaic depicts a dynamic scene of fighters marching to war, as well as families mourning their departure. Interestingly, the scene is also populated by very surreal elements, such as a skull-faced fish swimming in the sky and a giraffe's head poking out of a pile of weapons. On the left and right edges of the mosaic is a list of fallen fighters, while at the center is a poetic inscription which roughly translates into English as "You have not returned to your native land at the morning of the celebration of our beloved homeland, but you shine in the face of its people, and they grow into light and into the wings of power, 1941-1945."
1957: Monument to the Revolution, Ivanjica, Serbia
Name: The Monument to the Revolution
Location: Ivanjica, Serbia
Author(s): Đorđe Andrejević-Kun
Year created: 1957
Coordinates: 43°34'53.9"N, 20°13'45.2"E
Description: Situated at the north end of Ivanjica's City Park is a large memorial mosaic wall which is titled "Monument to the Revolution". At roughly 10m wide and 4m tall, it is often cited as the largest open-air mosaic in Serbia and was created in 1957 by notable Belgrade artist Đorđe Andrejević-Kun. The scene depicts eight armed Partisan fighters charging forward (with a red dressed female fighter among them), with several of the fighters calling back to encourage more people to join the fight. The fighters in front of the charge wave a large red Yugoslav communist flag while an injured fighter lays on the ground at the middle of the frame. Interestingly, this mosaic work is crafted in a style much more akin to Socialist Realism when compared to the two previous works on this list. There figures are all highly idealized and conventional depictions of "glorified revolutionaries" with little to no artistic stylization, while the action is very dynamic and typical of Socialist Realism archetypes of the time period. Major restoration work was completed on this monument in both 2008 and in 2015. It is protected as a immovable cultural asset by the Serbian government.
1957: The Worker's House Mosaic, Trbovlje, Slovenia
Name: The Worker's House Mosaic
Location: Trbovlje, Slovenia
Author(s): artist Marij Pregelj
Year created: 1957
Coordinates: 46°08'60.0"N, 15°02'38.1"E
Description: Adorning the southwest wall of what was originally the "Worker's House" (Delavski dom) in Trbovlje, Slovenia is a massive series of mosaic murals dedicated to the region's mine workers which were all created in 1957 by famous Slovene artist Marij Pregelj. This location was home to a worker's collective as early as 1914, which served the needs of local miners and laborers. This was especially crucial, as Trbovlje has a long storied history of coal mining. During the early Yugoslav-era in 1957, the original buildings were demolished and this large modern expansive "Worker's House" was built in its place. The building's mosaic, which consists of four main sections, is among the largest outdoor mosaics in Slovenia. This colorful and dynamic work depicts mine workers preforming various duties, which also showing their daily lives, as well as symbolic messages of love, war, peace and unity. The form of the figures are very stylized and animated, similar to the approach that he used in his Rab mosaic just four years earlier. This mosaic was such a critical success for Pregelj that he was awarded the Prešeren Award in 1958, which is the highest artistic commendation handed out by the Slovenian government. It gained protection as an immovable cultural asset in 1996.
1958: The Two Memorial Mosaics at the Slovenia National Assembly, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Name(s): The Ljubljana Liberation mosaic and the Battle of Dražgoše mosaic
Location: National Assembly building, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Author(s): Ivan Seljak-Čopič, Marij Pregelj and the workshop of Alfio Tambosso
Year created: 1958
Coordinates: 46°03'04.9"N, 14°30'04.2"E
Description: The grand complex of Slovenia's National Assembly building was designed by famed Slovene architect Vinko Glanz between 1954 and 1959. Contained within the building are a wealth of amazing artworks and sculptural compositions. From the elaborate lobby at the front entrance are two stairways on opposite east and west sides of the room, which both contain large memorial mosaic wall murals at their first landing. The east stairwell contains a mosaic dedicated to the 1942 Battle of Dražgoše, which was installed here in 1958 and designed by Slovene artist Ivan Seljak-Čopič. The mosaic scene here depicts a group of Partisan fighters during the battle on the famous Biček's Rock fighting back the German troops. Two Partisans are shown at the center of the scene falling after being shot, while the village of Dražgoše burns around them.
Meanwhile, in the west stairwell is the second memorial mosaic mural which is dedicated to the Liberation of Ljubljana in 1945. This work was also created in 1958 and designed by Slovene artist Marij Pregelj. The mosaic depicts Ljubljana citizens tearing down the barbed wire fence that surrounded the city during WWII, while also dismantling the gallows on which so many civilians were killed during the war. On the left of the scene kneels a tortured female personification of "Ljubljana", while at the center is a woman in white holding up a sickle & hammer, symbolizing the Yugoslav socialist revolution. The Partisans tearing down the fence in the background can be seen stepping on the "Imperial Eagle", a symbol for Germany.
It is interesting to note that while both of these mosaic murals are by different artists, they look curiously similar. This is because both murals were constructed by the same craftsmen of Italian artist's Alfio Tambosso workshop. While the unique artistic styles of both artists come through, the shared material/color choices and expert craftsmanship used by Tambosso in constructing both murals gives both works a unifying and continuous appearance. For info about visiting the National Assembly building, see THIS link.
1958: President Josip Broz Tito mosaic, Bihać, BiH
Name: The Tito mural at the "Worker's University"
Location: Bihać, BiH
Author(s): artist Vojo Dimitrijević
Year created: 1959
Coordinates: N44°48'43.5", E15°52'04.7"
Description: In the city center of Bihać, right next door to the AVNOJ Museum, is a civic community complex called "Dom Kulture" (The House of Culture), but was originally organized in 1959 as a "Worker's University". The building is of a rectangular shape which is designed in the International Style of architecture. The most striking feature of the building is a large colorful abstract mural dedicated to Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito on its east facing side, which was created by Sarajevo artist Vojo Dimitrijević. Crafted in a highly imaginative style of geometric abstraction, it is among the first memorial mosaic works in Yugoslavia to delve so deeply into portraying ideas in such a simplified and gestural form. The scene consists of a field of colorful overlapping shapes, through which can be seen the unmistakable silhouette of Tito on the right side of the mural painted in red. Below Tito's head is depicted the town of Bihać and its bridge over the Una River, with it all appearing to be in flames, but a red Yugoslav star symbolically shines overhead. The the left of the scene is a mysterious abstract figure who is holding tight their left leg with a bloody foot, while next to the figure is a bloody shoe on a stick. While it seems clear this is some nature of injured Partisan fighter, it is not clear if it has some deeper symbolic meaning. This mosaic still exists in good condition up until the present day.
1961: The "Partisan Monument of 1941" Mosaic, Užice, Serbia
Name: The "Partisan Monument of 1941" Mosaic Mural
Location: Užice, Serbia
Author(s): Marinko Benzon
Year created: 1961
Coordinates: 43°51'21.6"N, 19°50'25.0"E
Description: Located high on an upper wall of a residential building right in the city center of Užice, Serbia (at the northwest corner of Partisan/City Square) is a mosaic which depicts a design known as the "Partisan Monument of 1941". This memorial mosaic was created by Split-born Croatian artist Marinko Benzon in 1961 on the 20th anniversary of the uprising against fascist occupation during WWII. The scene of this mosaic is composed of a Partisan fighter holding a Yugoslav flag as he gestures back towards his fellow fighters to charge forward, all framed by a star motif. Behind the scene is a background consisting of the red, white and blue of the Yugoslav flag. The very traditional and austere appearance of this mosaic is the result of it being based off of design motif which was used for a medal of the same name that was awarded to Partisan fighters who were early joiners of the resistance movement in 1941 and survived all the way until the end of WWII. The medal design was originally created in 1946 by Antun Augustinčić and Đorđe Andrejević-Kun. Over 27,000 of such medals were awarded by the Yugoslav government. While this mosaic mural is in relatively good condition, it is often overlooked by passers-by as a result of the noise of the bustling city and traffic below.
1962: The May 25th Museum mosaic, Belgrade, Serbia
Name: The May 25th Museum mosaic
Location: Belgrade, Serbia
Author(s): artist Boško Karanović
Year created: 1962
Coordinates: 44°47'17.0"N, 20°27'07.6"E
Description: Located in the Dedinje neighborhood of Belgrade is the Museum of Yugoslavia. Constructed next to Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito’s official Belgrade residence, the original name for the museum (until 1996) was the “Josip Broz Tito Memorial Center”. One of the central buildings of the memorial center was a facility called the "May 25th Museum" (created by architect Mihailo Janković in 1962), which acted as the museum complex's main entrance, as well as the repository for Tito's official gifts and Relay of Youth batons. Crafted in the International Style of architecture, the main decorative feature of the building's front facade is a massive tile mosaic mural at its very center overlooking the museum's entrance. This mosaic was created by Belgrade artist Boško Karanović, who was notable as being one of the founding members of the Belgrade art collaborative "Grafički kolektiv". Depicted within the scene of this monochrome mosaic are six highly stylized figures (possibly symbolizing the six republics of Yugoslavia), three of which are carrying rifles (representing the Partisan fight for freedom during WWII), while three others are carrying buckets (representing Yugoslavia's post-war reconstruction). At the center of the scene is a pile of what appear to be broken sticks, whose meaning is not clear.
Even at the time of its unveiling, this mosaic mural was controversial. Sources relate that famous Belgrade art critic and National Museum director Lazar Trifunović made the following remarks about the mosaic upon its unveiling in 1962: "...What is this mosaic here for and what is its purpose?... If the idea was that the mosaic should demonstrably, and like a poster, symbolically show what is in the museum, then I wonder what kind of a symbol is represented by six bloodlessly stylized figures doing morning gymnastics in a manner that had already been done in our paintings since 1947 and 1948... If the intention was for these six figures to personify the six republics and the brotherhood of our peoples, then this naïve, pathos-laden mosaic is a failed example of such an attempt."
1962: Memorial Mosaic to the Battle of Sutjeska, Belgrade, Serbia
Name: Battle of Sutjeska Memorial Mosaic
Location: at the Palace of Serbia or SIV, Belgrade, Serbia
Author(s): artist Marij Pregelj
Year created: 1962
Coordinates: 44°49'11.0"N, 20°25'38.1"E
Description: One of the most significant repositories in Belgrade for large-scale Yugoslav-era artwork is the Palace of Serbia, which is also sometimes is also called the SIV ("Savezno izvršno veće" or "Federal Executive Council"). This massive government complex was completed in 1959 and its construction overseen by architect Mihailo Janković. Of the many artworks contained within the SIV is an impressive memorial mosaic by Slovene artist Marij Pregelj which is dedicated to the 1973 Battle of Sutjeska. Installed within one of the SIV's primary stairway atriums in 1959, this massive mosaic stands at roughly 18m wide and 6m tall, with some sources asserting it to be the largest single piece of artwork in the building. Contained within the mosaic are hundreds of highly stylized figures of Partisan fighters which are all shown to be boxed in from all sides by Axis forces. Some are charging forward, some are tending to wounded fighters, some are getting shot at from a German bunker, some are even being attacked by dogs. The drama and action are to heights of unimaginable scale and this work most certainly stands as Pregelj's highest artistic achievment. In a 2018 news interview, Slovene art curator Martino Vovk is quoted describing this mosiac mural in the following terms: "Pregelj presented this almost mythological moment of the victorious history of the People's Liberation Struggle in a completely modern way. It was not ideological propaganda, but an independent, autonomous, glorious, monumental work. Sutjeska is a symbolic parable of a community in agony on the path to liberation, transcending the firmness of both history and time."
1963: The Mosaics at the Monument to Brotherhood & Unity, Landovica, Kosovo*
Name: Memorial Mosaic at the Boro & Ramiz Monument
Location: Landovica/Landovicë, Kosovo*
Author(s): artist Hilmija Ćatović
Year created: 1963
Coordinates: N42°15'17.5", E20°40'55.0"
Description: Situated just south of the small village of Landovica/Landovicë is the former location of the Monument to Boro and Ramiz (also called the "Brotherhood & Unity" Monument). The two young men that this monument is dedicated to, Boro Vukmirović (an ethnic-Serb) and Ramiz Sadiku (an ethnic-Albanian) became close friends through working with the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and were both heavily involved in helping to organize the Partisan uprising against Italian occupation. However, on April 7th of 1943, both Boro and Ramiz were traveling from Đakovica to Prizren when they were captured and executed by Italian and Albanian occupation forces along the road just east of Landovica. They were so close that they reportedly refused to be executed separately, as were thus both shot as they clung to each other in embrace. After WWII, the story of Boro and Ramiz was mythologized heavily within Yugoslav society, with it being used as one of the archetypal embodiments of the idea of "Brotherhood & Unity".
In 1963, a monument was built at the location where they were shot and was dedicated to their memory. The primary sculptural element of the monument was an abstract geometric depiction of an embraced Boro and Ramiz composed in concrete (created by Miodrag Pecić & Svetomir Basara), while next to the sculpture was a large mosaic wall designed by artist Hilmija Ćatović. In the above black & white photo of it, President Tito can be seen laying a wreath at the foot of the mosaic. This is one of the few clear images depicting the mosaic (if only partially). I have yet to discover a clear photo illustrating the composition of this mosaic wall. From this glance, it appears to depict several figures which look to be Partisans and people in uprising. In 1999, this monument was completely demolished and in its place was built a 'Martyr's Cemetery' (Varrezat e Dëshmorëve) for Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) soldiers who died during the March 1999 Battle of Jeshkovës. If anyone has images of this monument or this mosaic, please contact me. For more info about this monument, see my profile page for it HERE.
1963: Memorial Mosaic to Fallen Bulgarian Fighters, Niš, Serbia
Name: Monument to Fallen Bulgarian Fighters
Location: The Ledena Stena area of Niš, Serbia
Year created: 1963
Coordinates: N43°18'55.1", E21°51'09.4"
Description: Roughly 1km northwest of the famous Bubanj Memorial Park in the Niš suburb of Ledena Stena is a memorial complex which commemorates Bulgarian fighters who aided Yugoslav Partisans in combat efforts towards the region's liberation from German occupation towards the end of WWII. Built in 1963, the central component of the memorial is a large mosaic wall (~4mx5m). Behind the mosaic is a collective tomb where the remains of over 2,000 Bulgarian fighters are interred. The composition of the mosaic appears to be a highly abstract landscape scene of ruin and destruction with a dead tree at its center and a solemn setting sun on the horizon, while unusual barbwire-like forms streak across the scene. The work's bold use of shape and muted tones on a stark white background creates an atmosphere of contemplative clarity around the crypt, further communicating that it is a space of mournful respect. Nothing about the mosaic indicates that it is dedicated to fighters of Bulgarian background, but instead uses the abstract nature of the mosaic to take a more 'universal' approach to commemoration. Interestingly, this is among the first memorial mosaics in Yugoslavia that is completely abstract with no figurative elements or depictions whatsoever.
Since the end of the Yugoslav-era, this monument has repeatedly targeted with graffiti and defacement by anti-Bulgarian vandals, even as recently as 2018. As of 2019, a large section of the lower left side of the mosaic has been completely destroyed. Such defacement has led to official protests by the Bulgarian government towards Serbian officials for not better managing the site. However, despite this vandalism and neglect, annual commemorative events continue to be held here.
1963-1981: The Memorial Mosaics of Joko Knežević, Dalmatian coast, Croatia
Name: Knežević memorial mosaics of the Dalmatian Coast
Location: Drašnice, Mimice & Omiš, Croatia
Author(s): Joko Knežević
Year created: from 1963 to 1981
Coordinates: Drašnice work: N43°13'03.7", E17°06'35.7" (other two unknown)
Description: During the era of NOB monument construction in Yugoslavia along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, there were very few examples of monuments which took the form of mosaic art. The three primary examples which were created during this time period were all the work of one artist: Joko Knežević. Born on the Dalmatian coast near the town of Omiš in 1907, Knežević spent most of his artistic career working on creating artwork in and around his the region where he grew up. While trained as a painter, Knežević came to be recognized as the first great Croatian mosaic artist of the 20th century, creating many hundreds of unique mosaic portraits during his life. After making a large mosaic mural for the Museum of Sinj depicting the 1715 Battle of Sinj, Knežević was commissioned in 1963 to create the first of his memorial mosaic works, which was a Monument to Fallen Fighters at the Adriatic village of Mimice, Croatia (just 5km east of his hometown). This Mimice mosaic was of a very stylized nature, almost "cubist" in style, depicting mourning women and children as their Partisan sons went off to war. In 1974, Knežević created a second mosaic monument at Drašnice, another nearby coastal village south of Omiš. This work, titled "Women of Biokovo" commemorated the women who gave their lives during WWII. It was crafted in a much more traditional figurative style, showing a woman bravely and defiantly bearing her chest as she is about to be executed by Italian soldiers.
While both of the above mentioned memorial mosaics which Knežević created still exist to present-day and are in good condition, a third memorial mosaic dedicated to Partisan fighters which he crafted in his hometown of Omiš in 1981 was subsequently destroyed and removed during the early 1990s.
1966: The "Bosna" Mosaic, Sarajevo, BiH
Name: The "Bosna" mosaic
Location: The History Museum of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Sarajevo, BiH
Author(s): artist Mladen Srbinović
Year created: 1966
Coordinates: 43°51'18.2"N, 18°24'03.6"E
Description: The "Museum of the Revolution" (later renamed the "History Museum of BiH" in 1993) in Sarajevo was unveiled in 1963 and designed as a showpiece architectural testament to Yugoslav creativity and design. This impressive building, with its floating box-like mass, was the work of an architect team made up of Boris Magaš, Edo Šmidihen and Radovan Horvat. The interior of this museum was then subsequently populated with a vast array of art installations crafted by Yugoslav artists that could match the scope of this dazzling modernist complex.
Among the most impressive of these artworks is a multi-level memorial mosaic mural titled "Bosna" by famous Serbian artist Mladen Srbinović. After completing a massive mosaic at the SIV in Belgrade just a few years earlier in 1959, Srbinović went on to create this even more fantastic mosaic work at Sarajevo's new Museum of the Revolution in 1966. Located along the walls of the museum's main stairwell, the mosaic spans several levels and operates as a memorial to the history of Bosnia & Herzegovina. The work is highly abstract, composed primarily of dozens of stylized circular faces (all diverse and unique). Among them are flowers to denote times of peace and skulls to mark eras of war and death. Around the faces are also various weapons, as well as laborer's tools, both meant to symbolize the rising up of the working class. Meanwhile, sources describe the sharp red line that runs through the work as a representation of the "force that helps bring eternal renewal and birth from nothingness... [it] symbolizes recovery, blossoming, desire, and ability."
1968: Memorial Mosaic Wall to the Battle of Šušnjari, Kamenski Vučjak, Croatia
Name: Mosaic Wall to the Battle of Šušnjari
Location: Kamenski Vučjak, Croatia
Author(s): artist Edo Murtić
Year created: 1968
Coordinates: N45°28'49.1", E17°31'18.0"
Description: Along the road from from Kamenska to Voćin, just as you approach the village of Kamenski Vučjak, is a gigantic memorial mosaic dedicated to the 1943 Battle of Šušnjar. This massive mosaic, roughly 12m x 7m in size (one of the largest in Croatia), was created by artist Edo Murtić and unveiled in November of 1968. The Battle of Šušnjari (Šušnjarska Bitka), which was a decisive victory on April 16th, 1943 of the 12th Slavonian Partisan Division against the NDH Ustaše forces and effectively liberated the valley where this mosaic is located from Ustaše control. The significance of this victorious battle, as thus why this monument was built here, was because it operated as a major morale boost for the Partisan Army across Yugoslavia -- furthermore, it also acted as a strategic propaganda tool in helping to mobilize new recruits into the ever-growing Partisan resistance movement in Slavonia, as it demonstrated the 'shabbily' outfitted Partisans could indeed defeat the much better trained and outfitted Axis forces.
This huge mosaic which Murtić created is composed of two scenes of drama on the left and right sides of the mural. On the left side can be seen the Partisans lined up for battle (with more on the way), standing meagerly equipped but in tight formation. A figure sits on a white horse overlooking the troops while a woman in white laments over a dead child and fallen fighter at the bottom of the scene. Meanwhile, on the right are the Ustaše forces, portrayed here in moster-like emotionless appearance as they point their huge guns and artillery at the Partisans. At the center of the scene is a military maneuver diagram showing how the Partisans overcame the Ustaše forces, with it showing that the location of this mosaic here is directly within the historic conflict path of that battle. The bright and vivid style of the work could be described as "lyrical abstraction" or "abstract expressionism", both styles that Murtić routinely experimented with. This work mosaic mural was a very popular site during the Yugoslav era, however, the mosaic was destroyed during the 1990s as conflicts swept across this region during the dismantling of Yugoslavia. The mosaic continues to reside in ruins up until the present day.
1969: The Mosaics of the Monument to Freedom, Gevgelija, N. Macedonia
Name: Mosaics at the Monument to Freedom
Location: Gevgelija, N. Macedonia
Author(s): sculptor Jordan Grabul
Year created: 1969
Coordinates: 41°08'52.9"N 22°31'19.6"E
Description: Originally built on a hill named "Vadarski Rid" overlooking the Vardar River was a memorial complex called the "Monument to Freedom", at the center of which was a polished metal abstract sculpture called the "Flower of Freedom". The purpose of this monument was to honor the people of this region who struggled for freedom throughout history. Built in 1969 by Prilep-born Macedonian sculptor Jordan Grabul, the central monument was approached by a long set of stone stairs going up the hill which were flanked on either side by three mosaic murals mounted on concrete walls. The mosaics depicted scenes of resistance and uprising, with the two images above showing the mosaics honoring the Ilinden Uprising and the People's Liberation Struggle. Crafted in a monochromatic color scheme, the mosaics depict vibrant stylized figures defined with thick curving black lines accented with splashes of yellow. The style is expressive and bright against the Vardar landscape.
However, during the onset of the Yugoslav wars and the fall of Yugoslavia, this complex began to fall into disrepair and neglect. Then, the situation declined further for the memorial site when the decision was made to excavate the Bronze Age/Roman ruins which were initially discovered early on in the monument's construction. At this point, the central Flower of Freedom monument was relocated and the ruins underneath the Vadarski Rid monument site began to be excavated. However, through all of this, the mosaic walls were left in place. They continue to exist here up until present-day, but all traces indicating their significance or meaning have been removed.
1970: Memorial Mosaic to Fallen Fighters, Čazma, Croatia
Name: Monument to Fallen Fighters
Location: Čazma, Croatia
Author(s): artist Edo Murtić & Belizar Bahorić
Year created: 1970
Coordinates: N45°44'53.0", E16°36'39.3"
Description: Within the ruins of a 13th century fortress just west of Čazma's central town square is situated a monument complex dedicated to the local Partisan fighters who fell during WWII. Originally created in 1956 by Croatian sculptor Belizar Bahorić along with husband & wife design team Mira Halambek-Wenzler & Fedor Wenzler, the original incarnation of this monument was a low-profiled square crypt with a sunken sanctuary, with the upper outer faces of the square featuring stylized sculptural reliefs of soldiers in combat. However, by the late 1960s the work had already began degrading. As a result, in 1970, Bahorić worked with famed Croatian mosaic artist Edo Murtić on a redesign of the work. The most striking feature of the redesign was a set of four vibrant mosaics on each of the crypt's sides. These mosaics depict many darkly bizarre skeletal bird-like creatures in a variety of surrealistic and otherworldly abstract landscapes. Also seen in the mosaic are bony hands, skulls and bold blocks of color accenting the work. Its symbolism of this mosaic is not immediately clear.
The wars of the 1990s impacted this area of the Moslavina region very severely, which resulted in the monument to falling into a state of neglect. In addition, the monument was also targeted by vandals who left parts of the monument covered in graffiti and many mosaic tiles had been chipped off or removed. The site sat in a poor condition for many years until a team of experts from the Croatian Conservation Institute rehabilitated the site in 2012. Today the monument's mosaic has been fully repaired, but the site is still sometimes afflicted by vandals spraying graffiti on the mosaic's facade.
1971: Mosaic at the Monument to Fallen Fighters, Resanovci, BiH
Name: Partisan Necropolis
Location: Resanovci, BiH
Author(s): Miloš Bajić
Year created: 1971
Coordinates: 44°17'40.2"N, 16°18'08.7"E
Description: Positioned right in the center of the very small village of Resanovci, BiH is a monument and memorial crypt dedicated to fallen fighters from the People's Liberation Struggle. This work was created by famous Serbian painter Miloš Bajić, who is widely considered to be among the pioneers of the modernist artistic movement in Yugoslavia. In post-WWII Yugoslavia, Bajić, who himself had served as a Partisan during the war, was one of the earliest artists to actively campaign against the "Socialist Realism" art style in the early 1950s, putting on his first solo show of purely abstract works in Belgrade in 1952. While his work in modernist frescos and mosaic art did not extend greatly into the realm of monument building during his life, one efforts towards monument creation that he did take (one which was often taken by notable Yugoslav artists) was to build a monument to his fallen fellow Partisan fighters in his hometown, in this case, Resanovci, BiH. Completed in 1971, Bajić called this work the "Partisan Necropolis". It is composed of a tall concrete pillar roughly 10-11m tall, which is flanked by a square concrete wall section and a short pillar. The tall pillar and wall elements contain abstract mosaic murals depicting a monochrome radiating sun symbol, with both sun images divided equally down the center into black and white sections. No figurative depictions exist at this monument at all. While the symbolism of the dual-tone sun symbol is not immediately clear, it may refer to such basic ideas of duality such as 'war and peace', such as the Chinese ying yang symbol. Laying flat at the center of the complex is a tomb block slab which is decorated with a mosaic design featuring the names of the region's fallen fighters.
At some point during the Bosnian War during the 1990s, Bajić's monument complex fell into neglect and suffered considerable damage. Markings left behind on the monument's mosaics indicate that it may have been hit by not only bullets, but artillery shells as well. The complex continues to sit in a poor neglected condition up until present day.
1975: The "Man & Light" Mosaic, Vrutok, N. Macedonia
Name: The "Man & Light" memorial mosaic
Location: Vrutok, N. Macedonia
Author(s): artist Gligor Čemerski [profile page]
Year created: 1975
Coordinates: somewhere in the area of 41°46'14.7"N, 20°50'23.0"E
Description: Leading up to the completion of the massive Mavrovo Dam project in 1960 in the high mountains along the Albanian border, efforts began on constructing the hydro-electric powerhouse station which would accept the dam's water in the small village of Vrutok, roughly 10km northeast of the dam. President Josip Broz Tito came here to Vrutok in 1957 to dedicate the project, but much work was still to be done before it was fully completed. A vast network of canals and tunnels called the "Šarski vodi" (Šar's Water) project which would bring the water from the dam to the Vrutok station began in 1969 and was completed several years later. To honor the final phase of this long project (which had stated all the way back in 1947), notable artist Gligor Čemerski was commissioned to create a memorial mosaic dedicated to the Mavrovo dam and hydro-electric project at the compound of the Vrutok power station.
Completed in 1975, the monument consists of a memorial mosaic mural that is mounted horizontally onto a stone escarpment near the hydro-electric facility. It is irregularly shaped, almost like a jagged opening in the side of the mountain. The scene depicted within the mosaic is a dynamic colorful celebration of the region's electrification, showing images of abstract figures holding light bulbs and views of man being transformed through this new gift of light and power. Tendrils of red and black snake through the scene, symbolizing power lines and electricity spreading across the landscape. The work is in Gligor Čemerski's trademark style, typified by its bold vibrancy, color and inventive figurative deconstruction. Recent accounts indicate that the mosaic continues to exist in a fair condition, however, it resides within the hydro-electric facility's property, so it is inaccessible to the public.
1976: The Battle of Dražgoše Memorial Mosaic, Dražgoše, Slovenia
Name: Memorial mosaic to the Battle of Dražgoše
Location: Dražgoše, Slovenia
Author(s): Ive Šubic
Year created: 1976
Coordinates: N46°15'08.5", E14°09'59.8"
Description: One of the primary elements of the Battle of Dražgoše monument in Dražgoše, Slovenia (created in 1976 by architect Boris Kobe) is a large memorial mosaic set into an alcove within the hillside. The Battle of Dražgoše was a turbulent winter skirmish in 1942 where Partisans of the Cankar Battalion fought against Nazi soldiers in an effort to protect local citizens from the village of Dražgoše from deportation. This impressive mosaic work was created by Slovene artist Ive Šubic and is roughly 7m wide. This mosaic scene depicts many scenes and consequences from the battle, such as the Partisans attack from Biček's Rock, the Nazi's artillery barrage, as well as the burning of Dražgoše and the deportation of its inhabitats by the Nazis. The visceral and emotional way this scene is depicted, showing all natures of the horrors, atrocities and suffering of war which occurred during the battle, surely was a result of Šubic having himself directly taken part in this very battle during his time serving in the Partisan army.
Finally, it is interesting to point out that within this mosaic there are two posters which can be seen near the center of the scene. Interetingly, these are depictions of posters that Šubic himself designed and distributed during the war. The first one, seen in the red colored flag, reads in Slovenian as "SMRT! SVO = BODO" which reads in English essentially as "DEATH! FREEDOM". Why the word freedom is hyphenated with an equals sign may simply be a stylistic decision by Šubic, however, it also may have been an overtly intentional symbolic decision to add an extra dimension of "equality" to the word 'freedom'. Finally, the orange-colored banner flag reads in Slovenian as "BRATJE, PODAJMO SI ROKE", which roughly reads in English as "BROTHERS, TO ARMS", which is a line from the famous traditional Partisan battle song "BRATJE, LE K SONCU, SVOBODI", so very much fits into the 'resistance' and 'uprising' theme of the mosaic.
1977: The Monument to Freedom, Kočani, N. Macedonia
Name: The Monument to Freedom
Location: Kočani, N. Macedonia
Author(s): artist Gligor Čemerski
Year created: 1977
Coordinates: N41°55'07.9", E22°24'25.4"
Description: Perched on top of Lokubija Hill in the town of Kočani, N. Macedonia is a extensive memorial mosaic complex called the "Monument to Freedom". This huge series of mosaic murals covers over 330 square meters, made it one of the largest in all of Macedonia upon its unveiled in 1977. Crafted by Kavadarci-born Macedonian artist Gligor Čemerski (along with architect Radovan Rađenović), this set of nine intricate mosaic murals depicts the historic struggles of the Macedonian people over the course of the first half of the 20th century, from the Ilinden Uprising through the People's Liberation Struggle. Symbolism within the work explores the themes of victory, freedom, resistance, revolution, victimization, pastoral life, technology and suffering. The style which Čemerski uses here is very similar to that which he used two years earlier on his "Man & Light" memorial mosaic at Vrutok (of which he integrates several components of into this work), with bold lines, bright colors and inventive figurative deconstructions. The abstract shapes, emotional imagery and exhuberent expressionism make the work a vivid feast for the eyes. While the site fell into some disrepair during the 1990s, much work has been put forward in the last two decades to rehabilitate this site, along with Čemerski's daughter Elena putting forward much effort to preserve and promote the legacy of her father and this memorial mosaic complex. For more info about this monument, see my profile page for it at THIS link.
1979: Memorial Crypt of Fallen Heroes, Veles, N. Macedonia
Name: Tomb of the Heroes
Location: Veles, N. Macedonia
Author(s): Petar Mazev
Year created: 1979
Coordinates: N41°43'24.0", E21°47'21.4"
Description: On a steep hillside overlooking the city of Veles, N. Macedonia resides a grand memorial crypt complex named the "Tomb of the Heroes", which is dedicated to the historical struggle of the people of the Macedonian region, while also (originally) operating as a repository for the remains of local fighters who perished during WWII. The exterior of the complex, designed by Novi Sad creative duo sculptor Ljubomir Denković and architect Savo Subotin, is shaped like a white flower-bud about to burst open, symbolizing new life and rebirth. Within this memorial complex is a series of mosaic murals taking up over 220 square meters of wall space (created in 1979 by Kavadarci-born Macedonian artist Petar Mazev), making it among the largest mosaic mural works in the country. Across this series of mosaics, Mazev depicts the history of Macedonia, from the Ilinden Uprising against the oppression of occupation by the Ottoman Empire, to the devastation during the Balkan Wars, World Wars I and II, to the liberation from and conquest over fascism and then, finally, to the freedom and the rebuilding of Macedonia. This work is often referred to the as the "Guernica of Macedonia", in reference to Picasso's masterpiece.
The style and atmosphere of Mazev's mosaic work here at Veles is electric, charged with so much energy and emotion that it nearly bursts from the walls. Vivid colors abound across multiple scenes of drama and action. Abstract forms and deconstructured figures collide, flow and morph into new shapes and ideas, giving the scene a dynamic feeling of transformation and energetic optimism. The mosaic murals are all the more emphsaized by the pure white heavenly surroundings in which they are exhibited within, making the connection between the view all the more intense and piercing. For more information about this monument and mosaic, my profile page on this site can be found at THIS link.
1981: Monument to Fallen Fighters, Plovanija, Croatia
Name: Monument to Fallen Fighters & Victims of Fascism
Location: Plovanija, Croatia
Author(s): Aleksandar Rukavina
Year created: 1981
Coordinates: N45°27'02.7", E13°38'07.1"
Description: Situated at the center of the small Istrian village of Plovanija, Croatia is a memorial complex known as the Monument to Fallen Fighters and Victims of Facism, which honors the victims of this region who perished during the People's Liberation Struggle. This work was created in 1981 by Zagreb artist Aleksandar Rukavina and is composed of three tightly-grouped 12m tall concrete fins that reach into the air like a spire. The most conspicuous aspect of this work are three large mosaic murals, one installed onto the face of each of the three concrete fins. Rukavina crafted these murals in a very folksy style, exhibiting many charcters wearing traditional costumes and engaged in local dances and cultural practices. In addition, one of the murals is also dedicated to the popular uprising against fascist occupiers, showing local people fighting back against oppression and cultural destuction. As the above images illustrate, this mosaic work is slowly deteriorating, with many of the mosaic tiles falling out of their settings.
1984: Memorial Mosaic to Slovene Partisans, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Name: Memorial Mosaic to Slovene Partisans
Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Author(s): Ive Šubic
Year created: 1984
Coordinates: 46°03'43.7"N, 14°30'34.3"E
Description: Located in the center of Ljubljana, Slovenia is a high-rise office and commercial complex called the "Slovenijales" building, created in 1981 by architect Zoran Kreitmayer. Within this buildings were included a number of impressive works of art by various Yugoslav artists. Among these was a memorial mosaic mural created by notable Slovene artist Ive Šubic which depicted a solemn scene of Partisans suffering in the winter snow. This mosaic mural is located at the south end of the building's east lobby.
The sad-faced group depicted in the mosaic stands around a horse upon which is seated a slumped over figure with a blanket covering their body, undoubtedly a fallen Partisan fighter whose loss is being mourned by the group of Partisans. In the background through the dense forest, the city of Ljubljana can be seen burning and destroyed as an ominous red setting sun can be seen perched on the horizon through the black smoke. Similar to his mosaic mural at Dražgoše which he completed 8 years earlier, Šubic's mural here at Slovenijales conveys the tragedy of war with great pathos and dignity, yet also conveys the tightness and brotherhood within the Partisan community when faced with the loss of one of their own. The style is restrained in color and action, with its figural depictions clear and concise, yet also exhibiting Šubic's distinct modernist approach. Restored in 2013, this memorial mosaic mural exists in good condition up until the present day.
*NOTE: All mentions of the designation "Kosovo" on this page are made without prejudice to the position on status, and is in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and the International Court of Justice's Opinion of the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.