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Bearly there: Photographer documents a dying tradition

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They are images that bear watching.

Images of Romanian dancers dressed in bear skins are currently on display in Brooklyn Bridge Park, as part of “The Fence,” a photo installation that stretches from Jane’s Carousel to Pier 5. The Williamsburg photographer who documented the traditional dance said that she hopes the exhibit — which will also show in Boston, Atlanta, and Houston — will help bring awareness to her subject.

“One of the reasons I did this project is to bring more visibility to the tradition, and I thought having it on these fences in four cities would get it a lot of foot traffic,” said Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi, who will participate in a guided tour of “The Fence” on July 23. “It’s a tradition of and for the people, and so it’s fitting that people will see it in the same way it’s performed.”

Alhindawi, a former humanitarian aid worker who recently won a prestigious award for her photography work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, would like to preserve the tradition, which she said is limited to a handful of towns and villages in Romania’s Trotus valley, where she grew up.

“As a child, I loved watching the bear dancers that visited my grandparents’ home every year around the holidays,” she said. “I thought that giving it a bit more notoriety by documenting it and perhaps making it more visible to the outside world might somehow help to keep it alive.”

“The Fence” is a project of United Photo Industries, a Dumbo art gallery that selected 40 artists to show their work on the 1,250-foot display. Each artist has six photographs on the fence, and the jury picked applicants based in part on who managed to best tell a story with just six images, said Laura Roumanos, the gallery’s executive director.

Alhindawi, whose photos are on a section of the fence close to Pier 5, said that the bear dance troupes gave her access they may not have given to a photographer without her ties to the region. The photos show a tradition that, never widespread even in its prime, is beginning to disappear as young people leave the country looking for work. And the bear skins, painstakingly maintained over the years, can fetch up to $2,000, giving broke dancers a short-term incentive to unload the heirlooms.

Alhindawi, the show’s curators, and some of the other featured photographers will discuss their work during a guided tour of the fence. The photos can also be seen whenever the park is open, from now until Sept. 20.

“The Fence” tour, starting at Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park [at the end of Old Dock Street in Dumbo, fence.photoville.com.] July 23 at 6 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 9:30 am, August 4, 2015
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