The brutalist war memorials found throughout the former Yugoslavia were weird enough when they were built in the 1960s and 70s. Today, separated by the end of an architectural movement and the disintegration of the country, they seem almost alien.
Known for photographing geographical oddities, Kempenaers was captivated by the spomenik after seeing them in an art encyclopedia. After hearing that many had been destroyed or abandoned, he set out to record what was left.
Thousands of the monuments were commissioned by dictator Josip Tito to commemorate the resistance against Axis invaders during World War II. The abstract style stood in contrast to socialist realism and also served a political purpose.
“Tito couldn’t erect figures or busts in honour of generals because he didn’t want to be seen to be favouring any ethnic group, for example a Bosnian general or a Serb war hero, so instead they made these things that didn’t refer to people,” Kempenaers told The Guardian.
Although the monuments, made of reinforced concrete, steel, and granite, used to be tourist attractions, they have receded into obscurity since the fall of the Soviet Union and the Yugoslav Wars. When Kempenaers told locals what he was photographing, he says they thought he was crazy.
© Jan Kempenaers (School of Arts Ghent)
The monument of Ilirska Bistrica was designed by Janez Lenassi and built in 1965. It is dedicated to Slovenian soldiers that fell in World War II.
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