Issue 113, Winter II 1989
If you walk through the green and chirpy tranquility of the park around the castle at Nizograd, Yugoslavia, past the Roman Baths, you will come upon a monument that might appear unseemly.
Two dark, bronze partisans are stuck on a pedestal uncomfortably high, back to back, one perpetually about to throw a hand grenade, another shoving his rifle into the air and shouting a most terrifying metallic silence from the depths of his chest, his shirt ripped open, challenging bullets to pierce his heart. Their noses arc sharp, lips thin, cheekbones high, hands large and knotty; everything about them is angular—a combination of social-realism and folk art. This type of sculpture is common in most Eastern European towns; the larger the town, the larger the proportions of the sculpture. However, there is something unusually fierce in the grim faces of our monument.
The monument was done by Marko Kovachevich, a sculptor educated at the Moscow Art Academy who was a Communist before the war, when it was dangerous to be one, when you could be jailed or executed for it.
During the war, he fought as a partisan against the Germans and won several medals. After the war, the Communist Party commissioned him to erect the monument to those who had fallen. He received so little money for it that expenses for the materials were barely covered; his work was appreciated as a comradely contribution to the cause. Party members from the neighboring town wished to have an exact copy of the monument, and Marko asked them to pay in advance, which they did. The monument completed, there was a great ceremony—the uncovering of the monument by the mayor after speeches of great dignity. The crowd gasped at the sight of the bared monument; the partisans were as small as dolls. The crowd was about to stone Marko, but he said, “Comrades, small money, small partisans.” The people laughed and the officials ground their teeth.
Marko excommunicated himself from the Party, flinging the red membership book into the garbage in town hall.
Since in a poor socialist country nobody can afford sculptures except the government, and he no longer wished to work for them, Marko could no longer make a living as a sculptor. He became a tombstone maker, specializing in the tomb stones of deceased Party members.
He moonlighted as an art teacher and, as such, was loved and feared by children. His presence was imposing: tall and heavy-boned, a massive hooked nose, like Rodin’s, and rising eyebrows like Brezhnev’s. His hair, the color of steel, was cut several times a year to a centimeter’s length, so that it looked like the bristles of a hedgehog. The hair grew quickly, obeying no conventions and leaping into various shocks and cowlicks. Even when it was long, his donkey ears stuck out, with some hair of their own atop each lobe. Whenever he entered a classroom — a room with greasy wooden floors in the castle, a huge building with thick walls, high ceilings and chandeliers—he would shout the assignment to us: to draw a tree whose branches in the wind scratched the windowpane, or the profile of our neighbor, or something out of our imagination, something we had never seen before.