The monumental significance of heritage
The 20th century was an era of wars, nation-building and monuments. If there is anyone who connects all these elements then you can point one name without a second thought – Ivan Meštrović. The Croatian master of sculpting, patriot and visionary. He contributed to popularisation of Croatia and all region, and Central and Eastern Europeans remember him as part of their heritage. From June 25th to November 5th 2017, the International Cultural Centre in Kraków hosts an exibition titled “Adriatic Epopee” devoted to the artist.
“Meštrović made Yugoslavia famous, but first of all Meštrović made himself famous as a Yugoslavian” – said Dr Maciej Czerwiński, a scientific consultant of the exibition. Meštrović’s peculiar patriotism is easy to notice, especially when you consider the fact that he was not afflicted with only one nationality. He felt Croatian as well as simply Yugoslavian. But first of all, he felt as an inheritor to giant human tradition. An incredible belief in identification with the homeland and the place where he was living (continental Dalmatia, the borderland of three cultures: antique Rome, Byzantium and Croatian folklore; furthermore his home was located 30 km from antique city Spit) made for a unique mixture. Meštrović felt he inherited all stages of evolution from the previous centuries and was part of that huge tradition. This belief is present in his sculptures.
Meštrović of course did not have to live near Spit to be inspired by antic architecture. But he was lucky to be born in Dalmatia where he could witness all those historical treasures. Connecting this opportunity with the patriotism and interest in politics made him an original and emerging artist. Most of Meštrović’s sculptures are essentially fundamentally political in their nature and reflect the spirit of the age, like the fear of contesting Slavic civilization with the Italians at that time. Thus, Meštrović not only boosted himself as an artist, but also – as a kind of diplomat for Central and Eastern Europe – showed that his compatriots have something to say, can influence an international culture and finally are part of humankind’s heritage in the same way as the rest of Europe – as well politically as culturally.
That is what Croatia, and the region of the Balkans and all Central and Eastern Europe, owe to Meštrović. In the period surrounding the First World War, his influence on the popularisation of his homeland was unthinkable and incomparable to that of contemporary times. “Nowadays we return to his work, we want to praise and show it” remarks the Croatian curator of the exhibition, Barbara Vujanović.
It is not an accident that the event is taking place in Kraków. One of the most important cities in the cultural politics of Central and Eastern Europe, in conjunction with the politically and patriotically charged pieces of art, makes for an unforgettable impression. There are so many influences and meanings within those sculptures, whilst at the same time all the work is so clear and understandable.Meštrović’s legacy comprises of the heritage of all regions, all of Europe, all of the world, and finally, all of humankind.
Monika Szafrańska is a student of European Studies and Journalism and Social Communication at Jagiellonian University. She is an intern with New Eastern Europe.