Stashu Kybartas, a video artist who also worked in installation and performance art, passed away May 17 at his home in Chicago. Robert Colucci, his husband of 48 years, was with him at the time of his death. Stashu had been dealing with pancreatic cancer for more than a year.
Kybartas was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania on August 29, 1953. He attended Penn State University, then transferred to Carnegie Mellon University, where he received a BFA.
After his graduation from Carnegie Mellon, Kybartas worked for Pittsburgh Filmmakers. At the time, his interests were in painting (oil) and printmaking (lithography, serigraphy, intaglio). He also worked in performance, cooperating with his friend Margie Strosser in mounting a performance piece based on Ms. Strosser's experiences participating in the women's anti-war/anti-nuclear action at Greenham Common in Berkshire, England.
With the emerging tragedy of AIDS in the early '80s, Kybartas participated as a founding member in the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force. He traveled to Portland, Oregon to study "the buddy system," which had been developed earlier in San Francisco. Upon his return, Kybartas set up and managed the Pittsburgh buddy system that involved the establishment of a hotline, and the recruiting and training of volunteers to serve the needs of persons with HIV/AIDS.
In 1984, Kybartas decided to pursue an MFA at the graduate school of the Art Institute of Chicago, where his artistic interests changed to the time arts: video, film and installation art. While finishing his MFA degree at the Art Institute, Kybartas completed a videotape he had shot mainly in Pittsburgh with a friend at the AIDS Task Force, Danny Sbrocchi, who was living with AIDS. The videotape, "Danny," won several awards, including the American Film Institute first place award "Visions of the United States." Notable reviews underlined its depiction of a person dying with AIDS not as a victim, but as a person who lived his life proudly and freely.
Kybartas taught film and video at several institutions, including Amhurst College in Massachusetts. In Chicago, he taught at the School of the Art Institute and Columbia College.
In 1990, Kybartas constructed a major installation art piece at Everhart Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, titled "King Anthracite: Rock Man," in which he focused on the lives and works of Eastern European mine workers and highlighted the harsh working conditions and social discriminations they endured.
In 1993, Kybartas won a Fulbright teaching grant to the University of Vilnius in Lithuania. While there, he researched the origins of his family. The result of that research was another award-winning video, "Cousin Kasyte."
Kybartas then joined the University of Michigan in the Department of Film Studies, from which he retired in 2016. Kybartas's most recent work was a collaboration with Ann Marie Hudak, "Uncle Jesse White: Portrait of a Delta Blues Man in Detroit."
Stashu Kybartas dedicated his entire artistic career championing the lives of the working poor and of other disadvantaged populations. His friend Father William Clancyprominent liberal writer/scholar and priest of the Catholic Churchdescribed Stashu as "the most self-made man I have ever known."