The Villager Newspaper

Volumn 67 Number 27

November 26, 1997

By: Michael Glazer

As part of a collection between children from Greenwich Village and their counterparts in Kenya, an unusual exhibition is being mounted at the Port authority Bus terminal.

The exhibition is the brainchild of Mark Scheflen, who had Kenyan school children create drawings and paintings this summer. Now those pieces are hanging in the Port Authority's South Wing on the Ninth Avenue side, as part of "Drawings and Paintings Created by Children from Makueni and Machakos." The exhibit will be on display until Jan. 15.

Scheflen went to the Kenyan districts of Makueni and Machakos with a handful of pencils, crayons, and water colors. He also brought paintings done by Greenwich Village children. The plan was simple. Show the Kenya youngsters work done by their Village peers. Give them art supplies. Leave, then return five weeks later to pick up the art they had done. The children could create anything they wanted, as long they had no adult help.

"I was overwhelmed. The detail, the talent, the skills," said Scheflen about what he saw in the Kenyans' work. "Their expressions were right out there. Most of the drawings were environmental, very primal and simple, not complex. And the quality, the directness."

The children drew their images straight from the land around them. But modern images from Western Pop Culture also appeared in their work; images had seeped over radio, print and TV.

The Village children took a similar tack but arrived at different images. Space ships, aliens, and entertainment industry icons filled Villagers' art, reflecting what they saw as dominant cultural forces.

To complete the cultural exchange, Scheflen created the exhibit. He hoped to give people a chance to look through the eyes of children half a world away.

"I just wanted to work with the community. That's what really started this thing. I've (also) wanted to do cultural exchange," said Scheflen about his motivation for the project.

Three years ago Scheflen created the Visual Arts Program at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery. The program provided an alternative space for exhibitions, brought art to a community level and involved children and adults in art more intimately. The community level of art allowed Scheflen to see an intersection between his community and cultural exchange dreams.

Helping him make his dreams reality were two Kenyan clerics: Archbishop of Kenya David Gitari and Bishop of Makueni and Machakos Joseph Kanuku. When Scheflen called Bishop Gitari and asked for his help, Gitari had him talk to Bishop Kanuku, who agreed to help Scheflen and hosted him while he was in Kenya.

Two Fridays ago. the exhibition had a special visitor. Bishop Gitari was in New York for a United Nations panel discussion and was able to come to see Scheflen's finished product.

According to Scheflen: "He (Bishop Gitari) loved the exhibit and was surprised at how they (drawings and paintings ) were."  

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