An art project bridges continents, hearts and minds

June 2002


The thoughts, fears and hopes of Russian, Kenyan and South African young adults are mingling on the walls of an East Village gallery.

 “My Life…My City, The Diary Project and Kiboko Projects,” an ongoing exhibit showing at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, features handmade books, oral memoirs, videos, masks, paintings and drawings that offer a native perspective on daily life in environments ranging from middle-class St. Petersburg to rural Makueni, Kenya.

The exhibit is the product of the Kiboko Projects, a non-profit organization created in 1995 by photographer Mark Scheflen to foster cultural exchange between citizens of Africa , Asia , Latin America , Russia and the United States .  Scheflen began the project at St. Mark’s as a simple visual arts program and it has grown into a forum for international exchange and personal exploration.

  “A lot of the kids struggle to express their inner thoughts and feelings because they’ve been taught that’s not something you do,” said Scheflen.  “Once you’ve opened doors for them to think in a new way, they form a different perspective about themselves and the world.”

Scheflen opens these doors by traveling to various communities and hosting two-to-six-month-long workshops in which participants use art supplies and video cameras to tell their stories.  Once completed, Scheflen brings the works to other countries, merging geographically disparate communities via video and art.

 “This was all so new for my students,” said Alevtina Kuzub, a Russian teacher who worked with Scheflen in hosting the St. Petersburg workshop.  “ Africa is so far away from Russia , it is hard to imagine.  Most cannot understand.”

 Scheflen is working to change that.  “I hope that the project helps participants to get some understanding about other cultures and really express themselves through their art.”

 Kuzub’s students were eager to add their contributions to Scheflen’s collection.  “These impressions are the heart and soul of my students,” said Kuzub. “They were very eager to show their lives and their city in New York , the cultural capital of the world.”

 “My Life…My City, The Diary Project and Kiboko Projects” is running at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, 131 E. return to St. Petersburg to the Union of Artists Exhibition Center for the city’s tercentennial celebration.