Re-engagement with socialist histories

This summer the curatorial collective WHW from Croatia are exhibiting in the State of Concept gallery in Athens with the show I’LL OPEN THE DOOR STRAIGHT, DEAD STRAIGHT INTO THE FIRE. The concept of “partizanka”- a female communist fighter during the WW2 in the countries of Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey, is examined by contemporary  female artists from these regions. According to the curatorial statement, the exhibition “ starts from the figure of women partisans in intertwined histories of Yugoslav and Greek anti-fascist struggle and postwar constellation of Cold War. It situates these histories in relation to various liberation and anti-colonial struggles, and a contemporary line of feminist demands for total social alternative. “ (WHW 2019) Members of this collective have just been appointed as art directors for the Kunsthalle in Vienna.
The return to this subject, at this time, is fascinating. 

I was primary school age in socialist Yugoslavia. I remember a little event connected to women partisans. A book was offered in class about Female partisans – heros from the Second World War. It made an impression on me. I was a girl, and this was obviously a proof that you can be a hero and a girl, almost a manual on how to become one…. I immediately ordered a copy of the book. My father was furious! He raged against the trickery of selling expensive books at school! To naive children who are captive audience, sent there to learn! We have obviously been pressurised into buying this stuff nobody wants to buy…Still, he paid for it,  but I did not enjoy the book after that. This was in the late 80es, the economic crisis was biting in Yugoslavia, and the ideas of partisans were going stale. My mother has kept the book. Re engagement with this part of history, after years of neglect is interesting.

In 2017, I visited MG+ in Ljubljana and saw the exhibition The Heritage of 1989 / Case Study: The Second Yugoslav Documents, this was a re-enactment of one of the last large Yugoslavian exhibitions- Yugoslav Documents ’89 in Sarajevo in 1989. The exhibition in Slovenia surprised me. It showed clear re engagement with the cultural heritage of Yugoslavia. Similar exhibitions have happened in Belgrade and Zagreb. 

Much written about exhibition was staged in in MoMA in New York in 2018 on the socialist architecture in Yugoslavia called Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980.

There are several movements happening here. There is a reflection by the artists and curators from the region on the historical events that took place in the last years of the century.

There is a re-evaluation of the nationalistic narratives that emerged at that time in the Balkans. These nationalistic tendencies have spread wider, and are now common place in Europe with the populist right gaining followers and power.

There is a reconsideration of the socialist ideas and values that were the base for post war Yugoslavia, and were present in the wider region during the Second World War.

The memory of socialist Yugoslavia is present and growing. There is also an attempt to find a common ground with artists from the wider region, in particular calling on the leftist movements in Greece and Turkey. The term Yugonostaliga or Yu nostalgia is widely in use in the social media and is a subject and a title of an excellent article written for the Art Monthly by Jasmine Tumbas in April 2019.

The exhibition in New York examined the socialist values of equality and tolerance that were promoted in Yugoslavia, specifically through architecture.

Ćirić astutely questions the timing of this. She takes a modular kiosk K67 designed by Sasa J. Machtig, as a symbol for “socialist ideas, beliefs and values and their consequent fragmentation “.( Ćirić 2018, p.46) It was acquired by MoMA in 1970 but only exhibited inside the museum in 2018.

Saša Janez Mächtig K67 kiosk

Despite the fact that activist art is a buzz word at this moment, “It seems that mainstream institutions only recognize activist potential once it has been rendered impotent.”( Ćirić 2018, p.46) The title of the exhibition seems to confirm this statement- Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980.


BADOVINAC ZDENKA and PIŠKUR BOJANA, 2017. The Heritage of 1989. Case Study: The Second Yugoslav Documents Exhibition [viewed 10/08/ 2019]. Available from:

ĆIRIĆ MAJA, 2018. ‘Comrades’ & ‘Gentlmen’-Contemporary Forms of Activism in the Balkans (The case of Belgrade). The Large Glass, journal of contemporary art, culture and theory, (25/26), 43-47

MOMA, K67 Kiosk [viewed 10/08/ 2019]. Available from:

TUMBAS JASMINA, 2019. Yugonostalgia, Art Monthly, (425), 6-10

WHW, 2019. “I’ll open the door straight, dead straight into the fire” Exhibition [viewed 10 August 2019]. Available from:

Re-engagement with socialist histories

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s