The Sprawling Gargoyles

Before digging with all my passion into following part of my theoretical series with communism, here is a pleasant intermezzo. There was a necessity to change already composed text, since my last confrontation demanded a special approach to the bloody case of Yugoslavia that I am about to publish in following days. Anyway, there is something stunningly impressive Yugoslavian communism has left behind.

From 2006 to 2009, Jan Kempenaers toured around the ex-Yugoslavia region (now Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia) with the help of a 1975 map of memorials, bringing before our eyes a series of melancholic yet striking images. His photos raise a question: can these former monuments (Spomeniks) continue to exist as pure sculptures? On one hand, their physical dilapidated condition and institutional neglect reflect a more general social historical fracturing. And on the other hand, they are still of stunning beauty without any symbolic significances.

In the rugged, mountainous regions of the former Yugoslavia, Spomeniks are everywhere. You will see them on strategic outcrops, lofty passes and sweeping plateaus: gigantic sculptures, firmly anchored to the rocks. They are objects of stunning beauty. Their abstract geometric shapes recall macro views of viruses, flower-petal goblets, crystals. They are built of indestructible materials like reinforced concrete, steel and granite. Some are solid, others hollow. The largest Spomeniks even afford access to the public, teetering on the boundary where sculpture becomes architecture.

Hardly anyone outside of the former Yugoslavia is aware of their existence, and within the present ex-Yugoslavia, no one really wants to be reminded that they are there. Twentyfive years ago there were thousands of them, of every conceivable size, shape and description, but in the early 1990s the majority of them were destroyed, dismantled or in the best case, abandoned to the natural elements. Only those large and heavy enough to thwart vandals are still standing today, derelict and forsaken. Yet these objects were built just a single generation ago, in the 1960s and 70s, as memorials to the Second World War. Those who commissioned them have since passed away, but their architects and sculptors are still living. In the 1980s the monuments still attracted millions of visitors, but a decade later their appeal vanished. They have become submerged in a new age, rendered unintelligible to the current generation. Their symbolism has been lost in translation as the visual language has changed, their signals muffled by a shifted worldview. The monuments have been the objects of blind fury, and now of indifference. What remains is pure sculpture in a desolate landscape.

In their dilapidated condition, they are no longer symbols of victory, but for the first time, true symbols of a newfound mourning. They seem to grieve for the horrors that took place where they stand, 70 years ago. Perhaps this makes them richer, more seasoned, beautiful and effective now. They no longer charm with their pristine beauty, but their gritty countenance commands respect. That is the conjurors’ trick of the Spomeniks, which Kempenaers masterfully reveals in his photographs.

Although some may see them as defacing the disconcertingly beautiful countryside where these lonely World War II clashes and massacres took place, still, Spomeniks are quite a collection – the fact that they are now mostly disintegrating or neglected does give them a new and rather improved ‘organic’ quality. Judge for yourself.


petrova gora
Petrova Gora



sanski most
Sanski Most


ilirska bistrica
Ilirska Bistrica








4 thoughts on “The Sprawling Gargoyles

  1. One can only imagine what people might think these various structures would mean… without any contextual referencing.. of course with the way some give meaning to various structures today.. what about 100 years from now.. the many who theorize on the many structures of antiquity… the artifacts shown in this series here.. have me wondering of what inspired their design
    My favoured design is (for now)- Kruševo
    thanks for the post


    1. That’s an interesting thought. The context of such structures without referencing their appearance to anything leaves one only with structure’s attractiveness to observe/notice, its beauty or ugliness that should fixate your focus while observing them. Ultimately, I think there is no intermediate decision about such structures – you either like them or find them repulsive. To be honest, I have no clue where authors’ inspiration came from, but my guess would be that it perfectly corresponds to the feeling of living within a communist regime. As abstract and sometimes wonderfully confusing these structures appear to be, that’s how it was to live in one Yugoslavia. Abstractly confusing 🙂 . The one that impressed me the most, is Tjentište.

      Btw, Bulgaria has some impressive Spomeniks as well.

      This is monument to 1300 years of Bulgaria, in the city of Shumen, Bulgaria. Visible from 30 km’s away, it sits at a height of 450 metres.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a pity Pink Floyd broke up (though I’m not a fan), some of these wouldn’t look out of place on their front covers, and some are an improvement on the Division Bell artwork. The Bulgarian one in Shumen reminds me of The Lord of the Rings.


    1. Yes, it really does. And in LOTR there was a king of Aragorn, while in Spain there was the land of Aragon, with it’s capitol city of Saragossa, ruled by the crypto-jew clique until they got expelled at the end of 15th century. I see that as a compliment to their long ruling era there.

      I like Pink Floyd too, but it’s true that I listen to them less and less. I even don’t want to get researching about Waters or anybody else, fearing I may find what I expect to be found there. Immense music and characters, one of the bands with tons of true talent, for sure.


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