The realm of Bogdan Bogdanović’s thought-provoking spaces in former Yugoslavia is a feast for the senses, and a pinnacle of all art and architecture exploring memory and loss.

“Most of my monuments are to the victims of Fascism, to the Partisan movements. They are monuments dedicated to suffering; they are never triumphalist and have no victorious character. All are tied to the enigma of death, and to the complexity of our feelings when faced with historic events”

Bogdan Bogdanović, Nedjeljna Dalmacija periodical (September 1991)

Last year, I visited the Slobodište Memorial Park – a striking and thought-provoking architectural monument located near Kruševac, Serbia. The park was designed by Bogdan Bogdanović, a Serbian architect and artist, who was known for his unique and experimental approach to urban design.

A sculpture outside Dom Slobodišta, the educational building at the memorial park

Born in Belgrade in 1922, Bogdanovic studied architecture in Prague before returning to Serbia to work as an architect. He quickly gained recognition for his innovative designs, which were characterized by their use of unconventional shapes and materials. In addition to his work as an architect, Bogdanović was also a prolific writer and artist, and his work often explored themes of memory, identity, and the built environment. His most famous works include the Flower Monument at Jasenovac, Croatia and the Kozara Memorial Complex in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bogdanović passed away in 2010, but his legacy continues to surprise visitors in former Yugoslavia, and inspire architects and artists around the world.

The Solar Arch is the entrance to the memorial space

The park was built to commemorate the victims of the massacres that occurred in the area during World War II. An approximate 1650 partisans and civilians were executed and buried in the area by the Nazis during the occupation of Yugoslavia. The park consists of a series of stone sculptures and installations, which are arranged in a specific order and intended to be viewed in a particular sequence. Bogdanović famously invited local children to roam the landscape of the memorial spaces he created, directing them to stop here and there, marking their locations with the sticks they carried. He then placed memorial objects at those locations, thus creating a carefully choreographed link involving the memory and human geography of the locality. The park’s design is highly symbolic, with each sculpture representing a different aspect of the events that unfolded and its impact on the community in an abstract way, that’s simultaneously heavenly and celestial in appearance. The park serves as a space for remembrance, reflection, and education, as visitors can learn about the history of the war and its impact on the local community.

The Valley of the Living is the main memorial space, comprising 12 carved stone sculptures

The Slobodište Memorial Park is a powerful example of how architecture and art can be used to create meaningful and lasting memorials. The park’s design is highly innovative, with its use of abstract stone shapes, creating a powerful sense of atmosphere and emotion. The memorial soundscape plays a pivotal role in memorializing the experience of being there : the landscaped areas an object placement create subtle audio sequences – the sounds of flora and fauna, the gentle wind sweeping the park, the sounds of visitors, and even the sound of silence where needed – cleverly created by the use of sound dampening trenches and objects. This video is created by myself utilizing a natural path through the space created by Bogdanović, and although the subtle nuances of his creation are hard to capture by technology meant to simply emulate our own human sensorium, it offers a sample of the audio-visual properties of the powerful memorial space he created with his mastery of its constituent elements, be it natural or man-made.

The park is a testament to Bogdanović’s visionary approach to architecture and his deep commitment to creating public spaces that engage and inspire. The park’s impact is not only limited to the local community, but it also serves as a reminder to the world about the importance of remembering the past and learning from it. The Slobodište Memorial Park by Bogdan Bogdanović is a poignant and inspiring work of art that will continue to be an important symbol of remembrance for generations to come.

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