The Forgotten WWII Monuments of Yugoslavia

Spomenik 3 (kosmaj) © Jan Kempenaers

Spomeniks are peculiar relics that occupy the rugged mountainous area of former Yugoslavia. Thousands of these gigantic sculptures were built across the nation in the 1960’s as memorials of the Second World War commemorating sites of brutal battles and concentration camps.

Spomenik 24 (Niksic) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 24 (Niksic) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 22 (Ostra) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 22 (Ostra) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 20 (Brezovica) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 20 (Brezovica) © Jan Kempenaers

Constructed from concrete, steel and granite these bold monuments imbued permanence and stability but merely a generation later most of these memorials were destroyed in an act of rebellion against the old social system. The ones that remain have become forgotten symbols lying derelict in a desolate landscape.

Spomenik 18 (Kadinijaca) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 18 (Kadinijaca) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 17 (Kolasin) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 17 (Kolasin) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 16 (Tjentiste) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 16 (Tjentiste) © Jan Kempenaers

Although the Spomeniks range greatly in size and shape they all embody the modernist ideal and their pure geometric forms lack the usual military fanfare of war memorials. Was it this absence of iconography that made these objects fail as historical monuments?

Spomenik 13 (Korenica) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 13 (Korenica) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 11 (Nis) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 11 (Nis) © Jan Kempenaers

All the images are absent of any humans, emphasising the neglect and portraying the lost history that these abandoned memorials represent. Although these pieces of art are beautiful they are so in a melancholic way and this sentiment is expressed well by the lonely atmosphere of Kempenaers’ photographs.

Spomenik 9 (Jasenovac) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 9 (Jasenovac) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 8 (Ilirska Bistrica)© Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 8 (Ilirska Bistrica)© Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 6 (Kozara) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 6 (Kozara) © Jan Kempenaers

Jan Kempenaers trekked through the Balkans to photograph these mysterious sculptures and his powerful images manage to capture the forlorn feeling of these sites.

Spomenik 5 (Krusevo) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 5 (Krusevo) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 2 (Petrova) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 2 (Petrova) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 1 (Podgaric) © Jan Kempenaers
Spomenik 1 (Podgaric) © Jan Kempenaers

With their meaning lost, these abstract monoliths have the eerie presence of the forsaken. A demented open-air museum that fails to remember its purpose the memorials have become self-referential objects.