by David Fox
The city of Belgrade, the capital and largest city of Serbia, have been in existence since 279 B.C.
Several empires fought for it and ruled it. All of these empires had a certain influence on its culture, people, urbanism, and architecture.
The 20th century brought several wars (Balkan Wars, First World War, Second World War, the civil wars in the 1990s) that left countless consequences.
The town’s leadership was drastically changed and the lifestyle of the people changed. Crowds of people from the countryside came to live in Belgrade after World War II.
Impoverished by wars and conditioned by a large number of people who wanted to live there and needed a home, the city got many buildings (entire settlements) built cheaply and quickly.
These were concrete buildings with no decoration, very simple, in different shades of grey. So, the once vivid and romantic city became concrete – cold and grey.
Luckily, there were people who hated the monotonousness of their city.
These people were painters, professors and students of the faculty of arts who started to paint murals.
The first known murals appeared in 1970s. The greatest project was done in 1977, within the manifestation The Week of Latin America.
A group of Chilean artists painted a wall of Student Cultural Center (SKC). The mural was called “For unity and solidarity with people of Latin America.”
Professors, especially Čedomir Vasić, and students of the Faculty of arts gave the biggest contribution to mural popularizing.
Their campaign started in 1983 when professor Vasić engaged some students to make suggestions on what to do with some of the city walls.
The goal was to repair the city, to do ‘artistic beautifying’ and murals were the fastest and cheapest way to accomplish that.
The peak of the campaign was the year 1988 when City Hall adopted mural painting as a legal way to improve the city – it got official then and was legal for the first time.
There was caution in the beginning, so it was hard to get permission.
Through years, responsible organizations accepted this kind of interventions in their city and came as support.
Despite that, out of ten projects, only one was realized.
Many murals were painted during the 1980’s. Most of them were painted by professor Vasić and his co-workers, mainly his former students who were working on popularizing murals with him from the beginning.
The most interesting mural from this period is the one on the facade of the cinema in the center of Belgrade.
It was painted when the President of France visited Belgrade in 1984 as a gift from France to Belgrade.
It shows six vertical and horizontal interlaced lines – two of them are blue, two are red, and two are white, which symbolize French and Serbian flags and friendship between these two countries.
Today this mural isn’t visible because a building was made in front of it and hide it.
In this period, some other artists were active and many walls, buildings, schools, walls of Belgrade Zoo and even a theatre, were painted and decorated.
The first great act of decorating the city was carried out in 1989, regarding the 9th Summit of Non-Aligned Movement, that was held in Belgrade.
On that occasion, several art projects were produced, including five murals. After that, only a few murals were painted, and all were damaged or destroyed.
After the year 2000, the most significant murals were made within the Belgrade Summer Festival (Beogradski letnji festival – BELEF).
Main characteristics of this wave of painting the city were graffiti popularization and foreign street artists participation in it.
During the BELEF in 2003, artists from Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, and Bosnia and Herzegovina created a graffiti mural in the center of Belgrade, which was one of the first multi-national projects.
An expansion of street art and creating murals happen in the last decade.
Worth mentioning are murals made by Grobari (Gravediggers or Undertakers), organized supporters group of the Serbian football club Partizan Belgrade, one of two major football fan groups in Serbia.
They painted portraits of former Partizan players, its famous fans, and great individuals (Serbian actors, musicians, Nikola Tesla etc.) all over the city.
These murals are all black and white because colors of the club are black and white. An accident occurred earlier this year when someone ruined many of these portraits.
One of the liveliest murals represents the friendship between Serbia and the Netherlands.
The author is TKV (The Kraljica Vila – The Queen Fairy) and is made in cooperation with Netherlands Embassy in Serbia.
The orange color and Deft porcelain are clear connections to the Netherlands and its culture.
The artist who stands out among the others is Pijanista (A Pianist), a professor at Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade.
He is the founder of a campaign named #usracuse that stands against trash in Serbian culture (against bad music, literature, TV shows etc.).
Also, he is the founder of a street art festival called Runaway, that is happening in Belgrade three years now.
The festival is more popular year after year, and many foreign artists take part in it.
Pijanista paints portraits of celebrities who are supporting him in his campaign and who stands against trash by themselves.
He paints walls in his neighborhood, buildings in Belgrade and areas under bridges, as well.
His murals are most numerous and the most vivid murals in the city.
Not only Serbian artists paint in their capital city, but many foreign artists come.
Moreover, some of the most impressive murals are the works of foreign artists.
For example, mural Tree-eater is the work of experienced Italian artist Blu.
It is located at the entrance to Stari Grad (Old Town) municipality, the heart of Belgrade.
It shows a businessman who is eating trees and has skyscrapers instead of teeth, symbolics is clear here.
Artistic duo Nevercrew from Switzerland also left their mark in Belgrade in 2009.
Here is a video about Nevercrew.
This year, Israeli artist Dede donated a mural to Belgraders. He painted one of the city symbols – sparrows.
The mural of Argentinian artist Francisco Bosoletti carries the most meaningful message.
He said that the mural was inspired by his impression of sleepiness of Belgrade that he got in the first few days being there.
The image of a sleepy girl, or a girl who suffers, surrounded by geometric figures, one of the main characteristic of his work, should make the citizens of Belgrade see their country the way he saw it.
He wanted to remind them that its time for waking up, that ruins of past times in the center of the city should make them rise and look into the future, the same way as they inspired him.
There were more than 50 murals painted in Belgrade over the years.
Unfortunately, many of them are damaged or destroyed. Different factors affected this situation, but probably the most important is the ignorance and the lack of interest of the community.
There is still hope that these new projects and campaigns (such as #usracuse and similar) will change something and bring a brighter future to the Belgrade murals.
About David Fox
David Fox is an artist who created davidcharlesfox.com to talk about art and creativity. He loves to write, paint, and take pictures. David is also a big fan of spending time with his family and friends.