Parts of the mural-covered wall running along Zagreb’s Branimirova ulica were demolished at the end of May 2015. The news was greeted by a wave of public indifference, despite the fact that the wall is one of the city’s defining visual landmarks.
Zagreb’s street art scene remains largely undocumented and under-celebrated, despite being talked up as a major urban attraction by guidebooks like the Rough Guide, Time Out and Lonely Planet.
Has Zagreb got a thriving street art scene? Does it rate highly among the street-art capitals of Europe? It’s difficult to give those questions a positive answer without one’s finger hanging self-consciously over the hype button. What is beyond doubt is that the city’s existing mural collection adds up to a seriously undervalued cultural asset.
Large parts of the mural-covered wall running along Zagreb’s Branimirova ulica were demolished at the end of May 2015. The wall’s owner, Croatian Railways, had long argued that the wall was unsound and needed to be knocked down. The fact that the demolition process has finally started has been greeted by a wave of indifference, despite the fact that the Branimirova Wall is one of the city’s defining visual landmarks.
The Branimirova Wall has been associated with street art since 1987, when it was covered with murals celebrating the World Student Games. It was redecorated in 2010 thanks to the Museum of Street Art (Muzej ulične umjetnosti or MUU), who invited 50 artists to each cover a segement of the 450-metre wall. The MUU went on to coordinate annual mural-painting festivals in various urban locations, notably in the concrete suburbs of Dugave and Siget south of the River Sava. However MUU’s spiritus movens Ivana Vukšić moved to New York, and the MUU website disappeared from the ether soon afterwards. Not only are there no more MUU festivals on the horizon; there is no publicly available record of what remains from previous years.
There is of course more to the Zagreb mural scene than just the MUU, with a spread of other, individual projects located around the city. The alternative Klub Medika has for several years hosted Ohoho, a springtime festival of street art that involves the decoration of the club’s own premises on Pierottijeva ulica.
The scene as a whole remains largely undocumented and under-celebrated, despite being talked up as a major Zagreb attraction by international guidebooks (Rough Guides, Time Out and Lonely Planet among them). The principal street mural locations (Klub Medika, Tvornica Jedinstvo on the banks of the River Sava, the suburbs of Dugave and Siget south of the river) are geographically scattered to say the least. No-one has as yet published a map or written a guide to advise on how to get from one mural site to another, or what to look out for when you arrive.
This is a shame, because Zagreb’s public mural collections are of undeniable quality. Academy-trained painters, graphic designers, comic-book authors, commercial illustrators and traditional aerosol-wielding graffiti artists have all found a place here. In fact it would be no exaggeration to say that Zagreb’s mural sites are where the best of the country’s figurative art is to be found.
Zagreb’s gallery scene is still weighted towards conceptual art, video art and art theory. It’s significant that many of the more figuratively-inclined fine-arts graduates have taken to the streets in order to break into the galleries, and then used their gallery shows as a way of breaking back out onto the streets.
The attitude of currently in-demand figurative painter Stipan Tadić is fairly typical: “I like the process of painting murals, it’s a bit like giving a concert, in front of an audience. It’s anti-gallery, it’s direct communication with ordinary people, and that’s what art should be about. The previous generation of Croatian artists belongs only to galleries, as a kind of elite.”
What follows is just a string of good pictures, really. The job of accurately mapping Zagreb’s muralosphere must be left to more dedicated and conscientious hands.
© Jonathan Bousfield