These Monuments Look Like Relics From an Alien Civilization

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.

Belgian photographer Jan Kempenaers treats them purely as artistic objects in his book, Spomenik, named for the Serb-Croat word for monument.

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.

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.
The Petrova Gora monument was designed by Vojin Bakić and built in 1982. It was dedicated to the people of Kordun and Banija who died during World War II. It was dismantled in 2011.
The Susanjar Memorial Complex in Bosnia and Herzegovina was created in remembrance of the thousands killed by Germans during the Orthodox festival of Ilindan in 1941.
The Kruševo Makedonium monument in Macedonia was dedicated to the Ilinden Uprising of 1903, when the Macedonian population revolted against the Ottoman Empire.
Built in 1963, this monument in Niš, Serbia commemorates the 10,000 people from the area that were killed during World War II. The three clenched fists are the work of sculptor Ivan Sabolić.
This monument is dedicated to the soldiers who freed the city of Knin, Croatia from the fascists during World War II.
This monument, authored by sculptor Miodrag Živković, commemorates the Battle of Sutjeska, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II in the former Yugoslavia.
This one in Košute, Croatia is dedicated to those that died in World War II and the Croatian War of Independence.
The Kadinjača Memorial Complex commemorates those who died during the Battle of Kadinjača.
Built in 1949, this one was designed by Vojin Bakić and is dedicated to the fallen fighters of the Yugoslav front.
This sculpture was built in 1973 and designed by Bogdan Bogdanovic. It is dedicated to the long mining tradition in Kosovo.
The Kosmaj monument in Serbia is dedicated to soldiers of the Kosmaj Partisan detachment from World War II.
This monument is in Korenica, on the border of Croatia and Bosnia. It commemorates Yugoslavia’s victory in World War II. It has reportedly since been torn down.

By Harrison Jacobs, Business Insider; | Photo ©Credit: Jan Kempenaers (School of Arts Ghent);