Observer-Dispatch Utica, New York

Thrusday, March 11, 1999

Old Forge art exhibit is truly... "out of Africa" By: Jonas Kover -Observer Dispatch

ART EXHIBIT: What: Makutano, Light Sculptures and Light Boxes of Photographed wildlife of Central, East and SouthAfrica" by Mark Scheflen and the Makueni-Machakos Project," art by children in Kenya.
Scheflen's 1985 African journey to study anthropology and social sciences became the seed for an art exchange, which he has brought to the Arts Center/Old Forge through April 1. Scheflen, artistic director of the community-based Visual Arts Program for St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery in New York, shows off the result of several visits to Africa in two exhibits at the center.
Makutano, Light Sculptures and Light Boxes of Photographed Wildlife". contains pictures of African wildlife in unique installations. Scheflen enhances his work with illuminated effects and imaginative frames and containers made from materials and artifacts collected in Africa. "The Makueni and Machakos Project" displays drawings and paintings created by children in Kenya. It is intended as the start of an art exchange with students in the United States, such as those in the Webb Central School District.

In a cooperative venture between center and school, Scheflen recently spent a week in Old Forge as visiting artist--where he discussed his exhibit with touring classes and led a workshop on making photo diaries, Executive Director Elizabeth McDowell said.

Scheflen said he "grew up on a farm and was always interested in outdoors, nature and wildlife." He also "played around with photography." So, it was natural for him to take pictures of wildlife when he toured Africa.

"The colors are so vivid and strong there, that I started photographing wildlife and got interested in the people," he said.

When he sought to exhibit his photographs here, Scheflen faced difficulties. "Galleries aren't into promoting that kind of art," he said.

So he "started building light sculptures as a way of presenting photographs in alternative spaces, places that didn't have adequate track lighting," such as New York City's Port Authority and banks.

Through his kid's project at St. Mark's, Scheflen met the Rev. David Gitari, Archbishop of Kenya who arranged for him to work with Kenyan school children when Scheflen returned there.

"I had purchased crayons, pencils and paper when I was there. I took it with me to the schools and handed them out, "he said. "The kids would end up making art. I went around six weeks later and collected it all."

The art was shown in Nairobi's main cathedral, where it attracted UNICEF support and later was displayed in the United Nations General Assembly as well as many other places.

One difference between young African artists and those from the United States is the African artists' use of color, Scheflen said. "They use bright colors to depict certain objects, like a boat that is bright red. One painting of a funeral or cemetery is very cheerful; the casket has a light so the body can look out; there are bright, happy birds. there is not an ounce of black in it."

In Old Forge, as well as several other places, Scheflen took several cameras donated by Nikon and showed some 40 students how to make a photo diary. He plans to take the diaries back to Kenya and inspire some of the Kenyans to make diaries, too.

He also will attempt to have a computer and Internet line available for students in Kenya to communication one-on-one with students here. The African photo diaries will be the basis for a new exhibition.