Barada the Gypsy

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“Barada” in his cabin.

March, 1993

By Tom Bell

KRASNY YAR  – The functional wooden houses built during the Soviet era are still here. But there are a few new homes that look like something from the pages of a children’s picture book. Built with tall gables and mansard roofs, these structures feature colorful art work and wood carvings that depict the queens, devils and pagan gods of Udegeh folklore.

On the gates of the village Soviet of People’s Deputies, a wooden bear argues with two wooden wolves. On the roof of a home that shelters a family of 12, a wooden maiden prays to the gods for the health of the household. On the new hospital, there’s a nine-foot-long face of a woman shedding a tear.

The tall, decorative mansard roofs make the houses appear larger than they really are. The designs aren’t practical at all. The  space on the second-floor is useless except for storage. Inside, the houses are typical of the small, wooden houses found in any Russian village. There’s no indoor plumbing. A brick stove in the center of the house provides the heat.

I went to see the man who designs and builds these structures. He’s a Ukrainian gypsy whom villagers call Barada, the Russian word for “beard.” I found him in his one-room cabin — the smallest, poorest, dirtiest house in the village. He was eating salted fish and drinking vodka and surrounded by his wooden carvings. He’s a large, muscled man, with a thick black beard and expressive eyes.

His real name is Yuri Petrovich Martsenuk. People here respect him, even though on occasion they have found him passed out in their gardens.

I wanted to know more about him, but most of our conversation evolved around the nature of the soul and why I couldn’t photograph him because I might capture his soul on film.

Regarding his art, he would only tell me this: He came to live Krasny Yar because he believes that man must learn to coexist with nature and that he wanted to live in the forest. He said his buildings pay homage the spirituality of nature, and the Udegeh people understand this and understand his art. To show his appreciation, he builds homes for them using images from their culture.

wasn’t able to get much more information from Barada. Before I left, he asked me bring him carving tools from the city.  I promised him I would. Then I asked him again if I could take his photograph. He agreed this time, but only after he was able to position himself in a respectable pose for a god.

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Detail of a typical village house built in the Soviet era by the government.

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