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The Diary Projects: Adults and Families
   
My Life..My City, St. Petersburg
New York: twenty-twenty
St. Petersburg - NY 2002
Families with Challenged Children
Artists - St. Petersburg 2002
St. Petersburg 2004 Alternating Faces, NY Grandmothers Raising their Grandchildren Kiboko – Mavoko Muumandu, Kangundo and Mumbuni
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Ukimwi (HIV/AIDS) Project-Momma Elly 2003

During the summer of 2003, Kiboko Projects held workshops at the Central Nairobi YMCA for people affected by HIV/AIDS. Participants included mothers who had been infected by their husbands, a young woman who had turned to prostitution to pay her school fees, a family of children aged 13 to 18 years old orphaned by the AIDS-caused deaths of both parents, and a 29-year-old father of four struggling to ensure that his children will be taken care of after his anticipated death from AIDS. Eight participants were asked to document their lives for U.S., Russian and African audiences. Through organized workshops and in personal interviews, participants captured everyday life.

One of the results of the workshop was a video. For all participants, the workshop process led to use of a new media as well as self-exploration, and the triumph of mastering a new skill. The stories told in Momma Elly have similar themes. Sophia Muthoni, HIV-positive and mother of an 18-year-old daughter, expressed the horrors and stigma of living with this "monster called AIDS".

"We people living with HIV/AIDS lack a lot of love...we are very lonely people"

“It's a disease which changes a human being into an animal, it's a disease you cannot fit into anybody's house...When you start coughing you see your own relatives they fear you...some of them they don't even want you to sleep in their houses...This disease is a monster."

Joyce Kamondo, an HIV-positive mother of a 14-year-old son who is also HIV-positive, talks about the dilemma faced by women in her situation and what happens to their children:

"I had to move from one house to another because of the stigma. People did not want to be friends with me...If you happen to let the teachers know that your child is HIV positive, they refuse [to teach them]....These children are really harassed." She also spoke bluntly about why HIV is spreading so rapidly --many women have no other means of income in Nairobi other than selling their bodies: "You had to be circumcised to be a lady, and in fact, our fathers preferred us for marriage. In fact, they never even wanted to educate us but I see now for us women we are discriminated...We cannot inherit [from] our fathers just because we are women. If you are a woman you have no right to inherit your fathers. That's why you see so many of us in town with our families. Men are the ones to inherit so we come to Nairobi to live in low income areas --we are forced to-- where so many things are happening, like commercial sex. And like it or not you are forced into it... you don't have a shamba [garden where food is grown] your body is your shamba. You don't have any money and you want to live... You want to see your children grow an You want to see your children grow and that's why HIV/AIDS is spreading like a wildfire..."

A second 2003 Kiboko project in Nairobi took place with a family from the Kibera slums, home to 1.2 million people, or almost half the population of Nairobi. The residents of Kibera lack such basic amenities as toilets, running water, and electricity. The household that participated in the Kiboko project consisted of two women -both mothers - ages 45 and 28 -- and their children. One had raised six children as a single woman; the other had a 13-month-old son. Both women were HIV-positive; the older one acted as a caregiver to the younger, more seriously ill woman. Mask-making, book-making, and video were used during the project to give a view of the life of a family affected by AIDS while living in the squalor of the slums of Kenya. Each of the mothers tells compelling stories relating how they contracted the HIV virus, and expresses political and social views about living with the disease in the extremes of poverty and premature death. One of the women, Elizabeth, explains that like so many Kenyan women, when she contracted HIV, the act was totally against her will: "One morning as I went to work, I met somebody who was driving a Range Rover which belongs to the...Navy people in Mombasa. This man offered me a lift, and offering me a lift, he didn't take me where I was going, but he went and raped me. I was ashamed to speak out to the police...Then in 1996 the symptoms started... I had malaria all the time... I came back to Nairobi...From 60 kilograms, I was [down to] 39 and I knew I was dying."

     
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My Life..My City, St. Petersburg

My Life..My City/St. Petersburg – New York was also an installment of The Diary Project which showcased work by more than 50 participants who documented their lives through visual story-telling techniques such as hand-made masks, photo-diaries and video interviews. Participants included families with challenged children, students, senior citizens and professional artists. Although the diversity of backgrounds is reflected in the richness and vibrancy of the work that was on display - there are as many different styles as there are individual stories - ultimately My Life..My City/St. Petersburg - New York points to a commonality of experience. It expresses universal human aspirations and struggles with prejudice of all kinds. As an international and multi-media event this exhibition cut across artistic, political, ethnic and linguistic boundaries establishing communication between different groups of people and breaking down preconceptions about other cultures while presenting moving works of art.

 
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New York: twenty 02 project 2002

Over the summer of 2002 Kiboko Projects held an intergenerational art workshop in New York City entitled twenty 02. Under the guidance of Mark Scheflen, the organization's Artistic Director, 20 participants were asked to document their lives for both Russian and African audiences, resulting in a collection of photo-diaries, hand-made masks and video interviews. Professional backgrounds were nearly as varied as ethnic backgrounds. Though many professional artists were included, most had no direct experience with mask-making or book-making and some participants had no prior artistic experience. For all, the workshop process led to experimentation with different media as well as self-exploration. On video, Caleia Soumana explained how producing a photo-diary gave her the opportunity to reflect back on her family history as well as her personal experience growing up as an African-American in South Carolina before the Civil Rights Movement: "This diary brought a lot of memories back. This is a collection. Not only for other people but for myself. It's a history for me. .I didn't know that I could really do it. …Then I just started writing. I'm dedicating this diary to my parents, Willie and Naomi Bush and my dear sister Wilnoa Posey. And I'm also doing a page on Maya Angelou's poem I Rise. 'Out of sadness, I rise.' Then I start telling my story."

Similarly, painter Diane Talan explained how she used mask-making to address the impossibility of making art after 9/11, sending a direct personal message to Russian artists: "I had to make this mask a pirate. For the last couple of years I've been painting where I live on Chambers street which is only five blocks from the disaster of the World Trade towers. I spent years painting the world trade towers from a studio. I had a great view of them. Since September 11th I haven't felt like painting my neighborhood because it's kind of like a graveyard. I've done masks before so this opportunity came along to work in a medium I'm already familiar with. I jumped at it especially at the idea that it was going over to you artists in Russia. My grand-parents, all of them, came from Russia. So I wanted to say something to you about how I as an artist 5 blocks from Ground Zero feel about what happened. Something I can't really say in words but I can kind of say visually."

 
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St. Petersburg - New York 2002

The results of the Twenty 02 workshop traveled to Russia to be exhibited (along with artwork from earlier workshops held in Kenya and South Africa) at the Russian Union of Artists Exhibition Center in September 2002. The exhibition was part of St. Petersburg's tercentennial celebrations and, in turn, served as the starting point for two new workshops, grouped under the title My Life..My City, focusing on five families with challenged children on the one hand and six professional artists on the other. Both workshops, like twenty 02, featured mask-making, book-making, and video, but arrived at results reflecting not only conditions specific to each group but to a very different cultural context. In spite of cultural differences and the language barrier many participants took the plunge and revealed surprisingly intimate thoughts and emotions.

The exhibition at the Russian Union of Artists Exhibition Center provided most participants with their first exposure to African culture. Watching videotaped singing and dancing from Kenya and South Africa, their first impressions were of a culture radically different from their own in a stereotypically exotic sense. Yet the very expressiveness of the Kenyan, South African, and American work which seemed so exotic initially provided a stimulus that both challenged and energized.

 
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Families with Challenged Children 2002

During the My Life..My City exhibition in St. Petersburg, Kiboko Projects was contacted by Gaoordi, a nonprofit advocacy group for families with challenged children. A twelve-session workshop geared towards this group's specific needs was organized. Initially, five families were invited to view the exhibition and have tea in the gallery in order to break the ice. Plaster casts were then made of family members during visits to the different homes and the mask-making process documented on videotape. Each participating family was assigned two students from the St. Petersburg Pedagogical College to assist them in developing their book-making projects and creating designs for their masks. In the final session, participants were videotaped explaining the personal symbolism of their masks. These interviews are surprisingly candid.

The Stepanets Family St. Petersburg, Russia open arms, witnessed a great degree of emotional honesty: "I was touched by how much love and sensitivity family members displayed towards each other, and how open they were to working with us. One of the reasons the project was so successful was because of the trust we were able to develop." From talking to these families we learned of an almost total absence of support and services for families raising physically or emotionally challenged children in Russia, and that these families are also often shunned by their neighbors who view their children with superstition and prejudice. In this type of environment, there is little or no emotional outlet. This context makes the following excerpt from an interview with the Stepanets family particularly moving. Father, mother and younger daughter discuss the symbolism of the parents' masks in relation to the older daughter's serious developmental problems: Father: "On the left side of the mask this column closes the left eye because man mustn't cry. You see, Russian flag is here because I am a military man. It's a symbol of our country." Mother: "For other people, I always smiled. I never shared my pain or my sadness about my problem with other people. It's the first time I share my problem on this mask. A black square because I look at the world through this square. There is a sun. I hope my children will be happy and the sun will be shining for whole life. This mask shows my pain for my child and the loss of my parents." Daughter: "There is a lot of pain in our mother's mask. All the pain about her child and it is easy to understand how difficult it is to her to show her child to our society. Our city could not understand her troubles and I think that in America there are also such families and we must understand it." This excerpt from the interview with the Stepanets family also points once more to the importance of video in the workshop process. In this case the final videotaped interview allows participants to complete the self-exploration initiated while making art. It also allows them to communicate their personal experiences directly to American families in similar situations. The significance of this workshop was emphasized by Alexander Ivanov: "I hope that the project will be a starting point, a stepping stone for the future, bringing together our countries and families. This project is very important from a cultural and artistic point of view, undoubtedly.

 
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While  twenty 02 was on display in St. Petersburg, Kiboko Projects also embarked on another workshop, this time featuring six professional artists who were selected with the assistance of the Russian Union Exhibition Center. The goal of the project was to connect them with American artists. Each of the six artists was interviewed in the studio about her or his profession, life, and family over the course of two days. Whereas the family workshop dug deep into family dynamics,  this workshop was geared towards building an autobiography of the individual participants as well as documenting their artistic careers.  Participating artists told stories about their experiences under Communism and Perestroika compared to their present situation. Some explained how they had had to smuggle work out of Russia during the Soviet era in order to exhibit abroad. Some spoke of the combination of hope and disillusionment they had experienced under Perestroika. Leonid Ptitsyn, an elderly portraitist who learned to paint in spite of having lost both his hands while disarming a mine during the siege of Leningrad, stated how much harder conditions are for artists today:

"There is a big difference. During Soviet times we lived much better. We were able to maintain a normal way of living. There were orders from government to paint pictures and we could also participate in exhibitions. These paintings were bought by different museums and the government. Artists lived much better at that time. They just lived normal lives and now we hit rock bottom."

 
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The St. Petersburg 2004 project included revisiting several projects started in 2002, as well as beginning three new ones.  The earlier workshops included families with challenged children, some of whom had expressed their deep emotions for the first time through their masks.  During the visit in 2004, many parents involved in the workshops discussed the great impact that the project had had on their lives.  Another 2002 project that was revisited involved six professional Russian artists living in St. Petersburg, who created and designed masks, talked on video about their experiences and lives, and made photodiaries, as a response to earlier work by New York artists.  New workshops were started in 2004 with participants in a drug recovery clinic and in an HIV/AIDS clinic, who responded to the stories of Kenyan people with HIV/AIDS.  They shared similar experiences and feelings through their masks and videos, and designed and made photodiaries telling more of their stories. 

Kiboko Projects also started a new project with several soldiers who had fought in Chechnya.  Through the creative media used in the workshops, they told compelling histories and related their feelings about fighting wars. 

 
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Alternating Faces, New York 2003-4

In November 2003, Kiboko Projects began to collaborate with the Creative Arts Therapy Division/ Psychiatric Department of Maimonides Hospital Medical Center in New York City on a Visual Arts and Dance Therapy workshop program in response to the 2002 Russian Families with Challenged Children project. The participants, 11 patients from the Continuing Day Treatment Service, attended 12 workshops after being presented with the collection of work produced by the Russian families. The result of the workshops was the production of a mask and photodiary by each participant, in addition to the development and performance by the group of a dance choreographed to involve the masks. The process was recorded on video throughout the project. Members of the group shared emotions, life experiences, family life, and personal goals through the masks, photodiaries, and their choreography. Through these techniques, the participants had the opportunity to explore these creative media in a positive, supportive atmosphere. At the conclusion of the workshop series, there was an exhibit of the masks and photodiaries, as well as a performance of the dance with masks, for the hospital staff and community. In conducting interviews with the patients and their therapists, the consensus was that this innovative project of combining the visual arts (maskmaking and photodiaries) with dance therapy had been beneficial to them. Many of the participants have experienced changes as they went through the process and structure of the workshop project.
“I enjoyed (the project) very much. It was something I could really stick to… I had trouble with that and now it's getting better”. Tami

“I see a lot of group cohesiveness. They're helping one another…they're enthusiastic about each other's work, and there's a lot of wonderful interaction between them. I'm hoping we can continue to work in this modality - art and dance. I really think that the masks have taken on a life of their own…” Nancy Koprak, dance therapist.

 
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Grandmothers Raising their Grandchildren: Kenya-USA  “Cause you find that there are certain families who were really rich in the past, and maybe after training their children, the children went and looked for jobs in town. Then later on, they married in town, they gave birth in town, but HIV/AIDS caught up with them, and both of them are dead. Then they are brought back at home, they are buried. It’s like their whole family is killed by the virus and there is the grandmother left without a husband. She’s very old and doesn’t know whom to look up to. It’s only the grandchildren”.  Dennis Okello HIV/AIDS Counselor

Grandmothers have been raising their grandchildren in many countries over a number of years, due to the increase in drug use and most recently due to the AIDS pandemic which has led to a large number of orphans in many countries. Many of these orphans are raised by their grandmothers, a group of women who are not only elderly, but who are at a time of their lives when they are not very strong, healthy, or have the means by which to take care of these children.

There are many issues raised for these women, and the expression of their stories provided an opportunity for this group to be empowered by creating art and by having their stories heard, to form close bonds within their community, and also to celebrate their cultural heritage. A series of workshops was held in Western Kenya during 2004, in which ten grandmothers and their grandchildren created and designed face masks and photodiaries, and were interviewed on video.

The grandmothers talked about the challenges, including isolation that they face as they take on the responsibility of raising their grandchildren. Each woman and one of her grandchildren made a facemask, designed, painted and then used them to communicate their stories.

“In Kenya you find our grandmothers really don’t know a lot of what is happening out there. They hear of wars and AIDS. AIDS comes to them when their children are all dead. That is when they hear that their child has died of AIDS”. -Dennis Okello HIV/AIDS Counselor

The grandmothers and their grandchildren took photographs and wrote their stories. In addition, they danced and sang their stories. Their work was developed into an exhibition and a short film for a series of presentations, workshops, exhibitions and exchanges.

 
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Kiboko – Mavoko was a collaborative project between New Hope Community Centre(Machakos County, Kenya) and Kiboko Projects.  The Kiboko-Mavoko Project explored the everyday lives of young sex workers infected and affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  Kiboko Projects conducted a series of interviews about the real-life stories of these women’s everyday lives using a variety of media including masks, photo diaries, and video.  The project took place at the New Hope Community Center where health and educational services are provided to teach and empower women.  New Hope reaches out to mostly women and families at risk and has enlisted over 500 commercial sex workers who live and work in the Mlolongo area located along the Nairobi- Mombasa Highway.  New Hope Community Center provides education and awareness, home-based care, HIV testing, and the distribution of condoms.   Eight commercial sex workers created a photo dairy and wrote about the issues they face on a daily basis such as:  extreme poverty, discrimination, suicide, abortion, sexual assault and violence to themselves and their children, and homelessness.

 
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Muumandu Project, Kangundo Project and Mumbuni Project

In 2010, Kiboko Projects collaborated with New Hope Community Centre, a community based organization, to produce the Muumandu Project,  the Kangundo Project, and the Mumbuni Project, in which the stories of the everyday lives of people affected by HIV/AIDS were shared. The community members, from a rural area in Eastern Kenya, discussed how they are surviving, taking care of both their families and themselves, as they face the obstacles of poverty, illness, and the ever present stigma experienced because of their status. With their help, Kiboko Projects   conducted a series of interviews about these community members' everyday lives using a variety of media including masks, photo diaries, and film.

For many in the West, this reminds us that in underserved communities throughout America, hundreds of thousands of people around us face similar struggles every day. The Muumandu Project opens the eyes of those of us who view it to the similarity between peoples and cultures - even those separated by the gulf of thousands of miles, HIV and poverty. Above all, these photodiaries offer an unfiltered view of some lives in Kenya along with the realization that we are deeply connected to these stories from across the world, as they are connected to us.

 
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The Quarries Project

Over the last decade, there has been a building boom in Kenya, with many commercial and residential structures being built.  To meet the growing demand for stone, many farmers have transformed their land into stone quarries in order to take advantage of this business opportunity.  A quarry, requiring much manual labor, can provide financial support to an entire village.  However, there are also potential dangers involved with quarries, a fact that the residents are often unaware of.  Many of them are unregulated by government, and can present safety, health, and environmental issues.  Both workers and residents can become ill from hard labor, dust, and polluted water in the quarries, or suffer from accidents due to unsafe conditions.  As the quarries expand, trees are cut down, resulting in soil erosion and increased dust.  Wind and rain carry the dust and stone particles into surrounding villages where adults and children work and play.  The stone particles have not been studied for dangerous elements, however, many believe that they are becoming sick from breathing this in.  There is a high incidence of tuberculosis and respiratory ailments among the quarry workers, as well as joint pains.

Kiboko Projects implemented a workshop where quarry workers were able to tell their stories through video interviews and masks that they made.  These young men, with an average age of 17 years old, related their experiences of working in the quarries and how it affects their health, both physically and mentally.  Alcohol and drug use is common as a way of dealing with the pain they endure, and the harsh conditions they face.   Women and children are also workers in this industry, involved in breaking stones into gravel.  The majority of workers in the quarries are out of school due to lack of school fees, and are working at the only job possibility that they can see.  In addition, it is important to note that once the land is used for this purpose, it is destroyed for farming and anything else.  The quarries ultimately fill up with rain water, which becomes a breeding pool for mosquitoes and a safety hazard for people and livestock who can easily fall into them.
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