Living Folkways | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Living Folkways 

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Throughout their history, the Carpatho-Rusyns have lacked a place to call their own. Scattered across Eastern Europe, these ethnic Slavs have been traded off between one empire and the next, with only brief opportunities at self-determination. Many Rusyns, including the family of Andy Warhol, settled in Pittsburgh, where their nationality remains obscure -- often to the Rusyns themselves. 

But starting this weekend, they will get a photography exhibit, and a folk festival, all their own. 

This weekend marks the opening of Podkarpatská Rus, an exhibit of Rusyn photographs shot by Dana Kyndrova and curated by Pittsburgh native Maria Silvestri. 

The exhibit sums up some of the paradoxes of being a people without a homeland, says Silvestri. Kyndrova is a Czech photographer whose photos of Rusyn people were shot in the Ukraine … and are being exhibited at a Carpatho-Rusyn cultural center in Munhall. But that's only fitting, says Silvestri. The Rusyns, she argues, are living examples of how a viable culture can transcend national boundaries. 

"In the wake of all the G-20 crappiness, this is the happy side" of global culture, says Silvestri, who recently returned from a stint honing curatorial skills in Slovakia. 

The exhibit is part of the Pittsburgh-based Carpatho-Rusyn Society's 15th-anniversary celebration, the First National Carpatho-Rusyn Festival. The festival has programming for CR-S members all weekend. But for the general public, the highlight will be Fri., Oct. 10. Rusyn folk-musicians and dancers will perform throughout the day starting at 11 a.m.

Some performers, like noted local dance troupe Slavjane, have Pittsburgh roots, but others will travel from as far away as Tucson, Ariz. Rusyn crafts -- including pysanky, intricately decorated Easter eggs -- will be displayed alongside Silvestri's exhibit. 

Rusyns remain a mostly rural people, and Kyndrova's photos often stress the essentially agrarian nature of their culture. Though Kyndrova shot her images over the past couple decades, burial rituals and other practices look like they haven't changed in centuries. And yet the modern world sometimes intrudes in suggestive ways: One photo, for example, shows a young child beneath a religious painting -- while a television plays a religiously themed cartoon nearby. 

A lot of the photographs "are really archetypes for Rusyn culture," Silvestri said -- and she chose them in part because she didn't want to seem to get bogged down in regional differences. (While Rusyns can be found scattered across Poland and Slovakia, all of Kyndrova's photos were taken in the Ukraine.) 

Meanwhile, although "some of the photographs could have easily have been taken a thousand years ago, the content can also be very current," Silvestri says. "That's the big Rusyn issue: the clash between contemporary global culture and a way of life."

You can see Kyndrova's attempt to document that struggle in Munhall each weekend this fall -- though fans of all things Rusyn would be wise to call in advance.


First National Carpatho-Rusyn Festival. National Carpatho-Rusyn Cultural and Educational Center (formerly  St. John's Cathedral), 915 Dickson St., Munhall. Oct. 10 event: $5 ($3 for members of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society). 412-567-3077 or



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