Back to youth projects

St. Petersburg, Los Angeles, Kisumu – Life is Everywhere
By Anastasya Plotnikova, June 21, 2010

mark scheflen

Mark Scheflen

The exhibition of student’s works from New York, Los Angeles and African city Kisumu has opened in St. Petersburg.

The 18th International Art Festival “Masterclass” is being held in St. Petersburg. It’s program includes two projects which had been done together with American artists.

The first one is named “Kiboko Projects” and is being exhibited in the gallery “Alexey Sergienko Flat”. The author of the project is Mark Scheflen, artist and photographer from New York. He spent many years in Africa taking photos of wildlife and people of the Dark Continent for the different magazines. Mark says that his favorite African countries are Kenya and South Africa. As regards to the name of the project – Kiboko – it’s the name of hippopotamus in Swahili.

In the gallery “Alexey Sergienko Flat” you can see masks which are designed and painted by the students from schools of New York, St. Petersburg and Kisumu, Kenya. There is also special nook with works of young people from South Africa.

Kisumu is a port city in western Kenya and is situated on Lake Victoria. Sarah Obama, grandmother of the 44th USA president, lives in the village near the city.

During the interview Mark Scheflen told to the VOA correspondent that potential participants of the project have been required to depict in their works those problems which affected them in their countries. As it turned out, the problems of youth are the same in a certain way, but also have specific features in every country: “For example, the main problem in Kenya is AIDS. Many children here are orphans because their parents died of AIDS. In the USA young people are concerned with the issues of health, climate change and different ecological aspects of our life. And also they are affected by the problem of international terrorism”.  As to the St. Petersburg students, they are concerned about the stereotypes which have Americans about Russians. So they tried to show in their works that young people both in America and Russia have much in common. For example, the student from the gym 209, Inga, says about her mask: “My mask is a representation of my favorite singers. I love music, I listen to it all the time”. And on her mask which is painted in black-and-white stripes there are the names of  Michael Jackson, Manu Chao, Metallica, Beatles, Kino, Nirvana and many others famous bands and musicians from the USA, Russia and other countries.

The other participant – Amanda – is a student of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, NYC. She says: “My mask is pink on one side and black on the other. This symbolizes the good and bad in people”. By the way, on the black side of her mask Amanda depicted the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York which were ruined of terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Mark Scheflen explained that he knew all the teachers and students who participated in the project for a long time. And the idea of using masks to tell personal stories came up during the trip to Kenya. The case is that Kenyans can tell about their own problems only with their faces hidden behind the masks. “So I think that mask is a very strong means to express yourself fully”, says New York artist.

And one more quote from the Kiboko Projects exhibition. The student named Moses says about his mask: “Life in Kisumu is good but I want my mask to travel the world”.

After St. Petersburg the Kiboko Projects exhibition will travel to Velikiy Novgorod and Moscow. Mark Scheflen points out that the project is not finished, there will be new works done and then exhibited in New York, Kenya and other cities and countries.

And in the St. Petersburg Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design are exhibited 200 drawings of  the pupils of school  41 in Los Angeles. All drawings represent sights of St. Petersburg and the project is coincided with the 20th  anniversary of  town-twinning between St. Petersburg and Los Angeles. Maria Semenova, the representative of Los Angeles and St. Petersburg Town-twinning Committee, told to the VOA correspondent that the project has been created the year before and would continue in 2011.

They are planning to organize two exhibitions – another in St. Petersburg with twice as many drawings and reciprocal exhibition of St. Petersburg schoolchildren’s works in California. As to this exhibition, Maria Semenova told that “the opening was in Los Angeles in the Charles White Gallery which is the department of the big art museum LACMA. To the opening came authors of the drawings – pupils at the age from 6 to 15 years old with their parents. They all were festive dressed and talked proudly about their works”.

Before the competition there was demonstration of a film about St. Petersburg prepared by the Town-twinning Committee. This film gave inspiration and information to the children. By the way, some of the works represent not only the national flags of the USA and Russia but also flags of another states, e. g. Israel and Japanese flags. Maria Semenova explains that in Los Angeles schools study many kids whose parents came in the USA from different corners of the world.  These kids also want to show their sympathy for Russia and remind of the countries where their relatives live.

To the opening of this exhibition came many special guests, among them were Natalia Strogova, the representative of the External Relations Committee of St. Petersburg Administration, Sheila Gwaltney, consul general of the USA in St. Petersburg, Alexander Palmin, president of the Stieglitz Academy. “Everybody liked the exhibition. Especially people liked the fresh colors which convey positive attitude of Los Angeles kids”, says Maria Semenova.

Upon completion of the exhibition most of the drawings will remain in St. Petersburg and will be shared among the hospices. By the way, there is an agreement that St. Petersburg drawings which will travel next year to the South California also will decorate the walls of the cancer care facilities in the USA.