Lida Suchy's parents where born in Ukraine and immigrated to the United States during World War II. Like many citizens of the former Soviet Union who chose to escape political and religious persecution, or to pursue the dream of opportunity in the West, they were fully aware that as exiles they may never again be allowed to freely visit their homeland. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Suchy accompanied her 84 year old father back to the place of his birth in Ukraine. Although the house he was born and raised in was found in ruins, they continued to search for places from his childhood memories. Traveling in the Carpathian Mountains they met Vasyl Potjak from the nearby village of Kryvorivnya, who welcomed them into his home. The following year Suchy returned to Kryvorivnya to live with the Potjak family, and spent the next year photographing the People of the Village Kryvorivnya. The photographs she made during that period serve as a portrait of this community, and a personal exploration of the artist's own identity as an American of Ukrainian descent.
Under the control of the Soviet Communist party, cultures which predated the Russian Revolution by hundreds of years found their national and religious identities suppressed and reshaped by the Soviet Union into one unified communist state. The villagers of Kryvorivnya are Hutsuls, an ethnic group of pastoral highlanders, who are highly regarded for their art and folk traditions by other Ukrainians. Under the Soviet Union ancient customs and religious ceremonies were forbidden, even the act of speaking in Ukraine instead of Russian was illegal. In the photograph of Vasylyna Dmytrivna and Vasyl Mykolajovych Zelenchuk made on their wedding day, we see the vital re-birth of the traditions which had been previously practiced in secret. Originating from separate gatherings in their families' homes, the bride and groom in traditional dress meet on the street, and are greeted by villagers en route to their church ceremony. Despite the difficuties of living under Soviet rule, the Hutsuls remained steadfast to their indigenous traditions, a trait which distinguishes them among Ukrainian people.
The Soviet Union's agrarian and industrial based economy collectivized all available resources, land and property were taken away from their original owners and controlled by the state. In rural villages, farmers moved from a state of self-sufficiency to a dependency on a state controlled bureaucracy. In Kryvorivnya after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the villagers lobbied local politicians to have their lands returned to families of the original owners. This allowed the villagers to once again return to a point were they could begin to support themselves by their own means. The camera was not a part of everyday life in Kryvorivnya, but the villagers took the act of being photographed by Suchy« very seriously. Often being photographed at work in the field, they wanted to present themselves in a formal manner for their portrait. The photograph of the village mayor Kateryna Dmytrivna Leniv in her office personifies this seriousness and utilitarian sensibility, both in her expression and attire.
Lida Suchy's photographs of the People of the Village Kryvorivnya reveal a community whose cultural identity had been forcibly removed, and remained hidden, but never lost. Kryvorivnya is a story of the survival of cultural identity through the reclamation of tradition.
Gary Hesse (c)1995
Lida Suchy lives in Rochester, NY and participated in our Artist-In-Residence program in November 1994.
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