Belgrade 2020: Three Things to Look Forward To

I got burnt last year by making a list of things to look forward to in Belgrade in 2019.

Two out of four did not come to pass (Chinese Cultural Centre and St Sava Mosaics), and the restored Palilula market only opened in the last few days of 2019.

Still, I decided to press on this year, out of spite to the general chaos surrounding major projects in the city, most obviously witnessed in permanently delayed infrastructure projects, such as restoration of Karađorđeva and Džordža Vašingtona. Although a lot or promises were made for 2020, from reconstructions of Dušanova and Kneza Miloša to opening of Belgrade’s largest mall at Belgrade Waterfront, I decided to focus the projects that are both most likely to come to pass and closest to my heart.

Monumental Year

While everybody is talking about the return of Meštrović’s the Victor on Kalemegdan (arriving in early-mid February) and the erection of the mega-monument to Stefan Nemanja (the founder of the medieval Serbian state), it is the rumoured restoration of the monument to Sima Andrejević Igumanov at Terazije that made me thrilled with joy.

The reason is that Sima Andrejević Igumanov is yet another unsung hero of Serbian history, whose class position made him unpopular during the socialist times and almost completely forgotten by now.

Igumanov was born in Prizren in 1804, in the year of the first Serbian uprising against the Ottoman Empire, which his family wholeheartedly supported. Due to his family’s stance against the Ottomans, he was orphaned as a child and raised by his brother the Hegumen (Iguman or Abbot) of St Mark of Koriša monastery by Prizren, which led to him adopting the additional last name Igumanov.

He went on to work in one of Prizren’s snuff workshops, but later set off for Istanbul, Odessa and Kiev as a tobacco merchant, amassing considerable wealth in the process. He decided to use his money to support Serbian causes, most notably proving money to found Orthodox Seminary I 1872. in his home city of Prizren, which was supported from the proceeds of an estate he bought at Terazije. He died in 1883, and was buried at St Mark of Koriša, but his grave was destroyed along with the monastery by Albanian nationalists in 1999 (after having suffered desecrations during WWI and WWII).

In Belgrade is is best remembered by the magnificent marble modernist building  built on his estate in 1938, designed by brothers Krstić. It was crowned with the bronze statue of him with orphans, made by the famous Slovenian sculptor Lojze Dolinar. Although the palace and the statue survived WWII, the statue was removed by the communist authorities and cut up. It is currently being restored by Zoran Kuzmanović, despite missing between 30% and 40% of original material, and is expected to be finished in the summer.

Autumnal Art Galore

Belgrade’s premier art event, Oktobarski Salon, or Belgrade Biennale returns on September 19 for its 58th iteration. It will be curated by Ilaria Marotta and Andrea Baccin, of CURA art magazine fame. Given the success of the last iteration, which drew in global names from Anselm Kiefer to Olafur Eliasson, we are can expect a lot of great art from home and abroad.

Before that, in March, MoCAB will be hosting an exhibition of its acquisitions between 1993 and 2019, which will provide an interesting cross-section of Serbian art in the past three tumultuous decades.

Finally, John Malkovich fans should rejoice as he is expected to make an appearance at FEST this February.

St Sava Mosaics, Take Two

According to many, what are to be the most sumptuous new mosaics in Europe will finally see the light of day this year. The works are ongoing according to their author, Nikolay Mukhin and I saw a truck unloading mosaic segments just the other day. After all, they are a major political symbol of Serbo-Russian friendship and Putin and Vučić indicated they would make a big deal out it this year, given it is 75 years since the end of WWII and Red Army’s liberation of Serbia.

Another major church in the city, St Mark’s, is also rumoured to get its fair share of mosaics, as one its priests mentioned during a sermon a few weeks ago that a new mosaic will be installed in its dome, depicting Jesus blessing the faithful.

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