as trauma lodged
in the cortex,
to storm the
veil of dreams
once she rocks
herself to sleep;
for outside the
watchful eyes of
life, he is hers.
First published in the Montclair Times
Featuring Dena Floryczk’s photography; Nigerian School Project article by Tonight at Dawn founder, Kimberly Cecchini, as published in the June 2014 issue of Millennium Magazine (listed on the cover). Read the article and see more photos! : https://tonightatdawn.com/2014/05/04/the-nigerian-school-project-going-full-circle/Stay tuned for the posting of Cecchini’s other article in the issue, “Pig & Prince: Restaurant & Gastro Lounge”.
Text by Kimberly Cecchini/Photography by Dena Florczyk
To learn more about and support NSP at http://nigerianschoolproject.org and http://www.youcaring.com/other/books-for-tomarro/173201.
Dena Florczyk educates students in two hemispheres. The middle school teacher in suburban Teaneck, New Jersey has aided numerous education programs and has had a school built in Nigeria. Her recent exhibition at the Stable Art Gallery in Ridgewood celebrated a decade of work in Africa through the photographs she has taken during her visits. The show also served as a fundraiser for her nonprofit, the Nigerian School Project. The pieces are not only a reflection of her photographic talents, but also the evolution of her relationship with the country.
Through an opportunity with another nonprofit in Teaneck, Dena originally traveled to Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos with the interest of an educator. She was shocked by what she saw. The disparity between the wealthy and the impoverished is vast and obvious; “It is not an easy place to live.” Public classrooms typically overflow with sixty or seventy students and contain zero books. Among many things, she observed kids sharing pencils and as many as ten growing boys sharing seats built for three.
Dena initially met with local teachers and asked them to write a wish list of supplies, imported box loads of pencils, helped to sew uniforms, taught workshops to juvenile offenders and created a small yearly cycle of modest fundraisers at home. Friends and family have also joined her on some trips to engage and teach local students. In addition, she undertook larger projects such as building school libraries and orchestrating a book drive.
“Oh my god, he wants me to build him a school.”
Following a friend who was working on malaria clinics in the region, she took a boat out to Tomarro. Upon reaching the shantytown “suburb” of Lagos, she was overwhelmed with a cacophony of noises and smells. There she discovered that the fishing community’s children are counted as fortunate if they had at least been enrolled in one of the area’s few elementary schools. Unfortunately, that’s also where their education usually ended; it is too expensive for them to take a boat over to the commercial capital.
Soon after her arrival in Tomarro, the bali (the tribal king’s brother), who had learned of her work in Lagos, led her out to an open lot. Standing on top of a heap of dirt, he asked her to build the community’s first middle school. She was not prepared for this daunting request, “I’m just a little school teacher from New Jersey.”
Despite the immensity of the task, the Nigerian School Project embarked on its grandest venture with the help the help of a financial benefactor and a local pastor. On that lot now stands the “Ibadan Public School,” a six classroom block with her name inscribed on the plaque beneath the school’s name.
“On the Map”
Tomarro’s people, who had felt ignored by their state, are truly proud of the establishment; they celebrated the opening with lively masquerades, drumming and dancing. Locals spoke about how the school put them “on the map” and legitimized their community. Now they can envision new opportunities for their children.
Even though the government shuffled its feet to fulfill their obligation to fund the operation of the school for two years, the school did not remain idle during this time. The townspeople formed committees and hired teachers to ensure that the prospective pupils did not have to wait to enroll.
Going Full Circle
Dena is currently awaiting updates and pictures of The Nigerian School Project’s newest endeavor. The high school will provide an opportunity for Tomarron children to have a complete education and, along with university scholarships, it will represent a full circle for Dena’s work in Nigeria.
In such a tough environment, scholarships don’t necessarily mean success, but The Nigerian School Project has already been able to help one young man, Suru, to complete his education with a college scholarship. You can see her motherly pride as she speaks of Suru who she has known since he was a young school boy. Now a Nigerian naval officer, Suru is also one of her trusted Nigerian connections when she is in the States.
The Dance You Do
“I don’t have that edgy, aggressive behavior because I don’t want to step into a situation like that,” Dena refers to the dance that she does between wanting to capture a situation and not wanting to be intrusive.
Although she loves to photograph, it is not Dena’s priority when she is in Africa. She accepts that some people consider her images to be too pretty; she’s simply attracted to the lines and colors of a scene and does not seek to exploit the rawest moments.
One of her favorite photographs is one she took in Uganda; she loves the movement of the potter’s wheel and the playfulness of the children within the composition. Smiling, she remarks how “they just want to play.” Her photographs do not ignore the poverty and difficulties that plague these areas, but they do not dwell on them either. “People are very proud regardless of their circumstance…they are very proud of who they are and their culture, fiercely proud, and I don’t want anyone feeling that I’m judging that.” As an intimate observer, she elevates the youth she photographs and conveys what she sees in them; engaging, smart motivated students and sometimes, just simply, children.
Whether its her photography or the schools that she has had built, this little school teacher from New Jersey empowers the voice of the young through sincere portraits and the civil right of literacy.
To view more of Dena’s photographs and to learn more about or support the Nigerian School Project, please visit http://nigerianschoolproject.org.
Text and Photos by Kimberly Cecchini
I make sculptures with the intentions of making people dance…so when they engage it, you have to walk around, you have to duck, you have to get low to take these different perspectives…so (viewing the piece) is a constant unfolding.”
In Appositions, Williams does not directly grapple with social identities, but, instead she composes a kind of meditation on the internal self that still gives credence to her own genetic and cultural inheritances as an individual. She feels that dialogues about concepts such as race and gender are important, but that we sometimes need to engage each other beyond these issues and consider what is universal for us as humans. Through explorations of anatomy and bodily functions, Williams seeks a more developed self-awareness of our bodies that she believes will foster greater understanding and compassion as people engage in the world.
Threefold is a three segment deconstruction of our bodily structures in which Williams represents the reproductive, the digestive and the nervous/circulatory systems through the apposition of unlikely objects by connections of shape and function. Plumbing hardware serves as a literal interpretation of the digestive system while a brake handle portrays the stop and release function of our jaws. Wall anchor screws aptly construe a spine while a light bulb socket sits below a brain woven from human hair with a nervous system connected by brake wire. “This is me taking time to examine my own body…This was my opportunity to learn myself better and I feel that it is the responsibility of a human, an artist to know so you can put other people in a position so that when they see the work they look at themselves, it makes them kind of touch themselves, and think, ‘oh wow, that is how it’s shaped’.”
Williams continues her intricate play of materials to recount a West African folktale of twins in the midst of being birthed in her homage to the Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.
In held, djet, she coils a taxidermy snake into a figure-shaped root system and cradles it within a pyramid construction in an allusion to expelling in the forms of birth, digestion and traditions of honoring the deceased.
“I don’t draw or plan it out; I pick up items and study the functionality of the object and relate it to the functions of the human body.” Williams’ process in art making is tantamount to her products. In roots. & rigor, her creative approach is aptly broken down into the metaphorical subtitles of “feeding,” “digestion” and “defecating” by the filmmaker, tiona m. Williams’ period of “feeding” is her active collecting of natural and manmade objects. In “digestion,” her art evolves out of a reflection on these objects and questions she poses to herself. “Defecation” represents the production of her pieces through which emerge a record of her own process of “reevaluation, reassessing, rebirthing and then reintroducing (her)self to (her)self”.
The rhythms of her New Orleanian upbringing plays out in the forms of Williams’ sculptures; “I pretty much take the same approach that someone in the kitchen would take to make Louisiana cuisine, the same way musicians write music, the same way a dancer…choreographs; it’s about breathing and timing. I make sculptures with the intentions of making people dance…so when they engage it, you have to walk around, you have to duck, you have to get low to take these different perspectives…so (viewing the piece) is a constant unfolding.” Her textures, connections, materials and her versatile skills as an artist compel the viewer to move about her pieces in a slow kind of dance. Each new perspective leads to a fresh discovery and connection to the work.
As rich it is already, the career of twenty-seven year old Williams is just at its genesis; she speaks very modestly of her steadily emerging career that has blossomed alongside her relationship with the Dodge gallery. This September, she will be representing the gallery at Expo Chicago on the Navy Pier (19th-22nd). Her shows are not to be missed, but if you can’t make it to Chicago, you will have many opportunities to see Williams’ work over the span of what is likely to be a long and dynamic career.
For more of my photographs from Kyoto, please check out the October 2014 issue of Millennium Magazine.
Text and Photos by Kimberly Cecchini
There was something romantic about how the heavy rain beat down on the pavement and filled the intimate street with its cadence. Soaked and lost in Kyoto, I felt as though I had been etched into the composition of a Japanese woodblock.
It was a typically humid summer day, but my husband and I still wanted to explore the neighborhood on foot from the city’s central station to the hotel. Being that street signs can be a bit of a novelty in Japan, we ended up not just learning about Kyoto through it streets, but also, through its people.
A light rain started to fall while my husband consulted the map again, so we pulled our luggage under an awning. Having memorized about three more Japanese phrases than him, I decided to venture a few blocks ahead of him to ask a pedestrian about the hotel. Then, in the span of two blocks, the cooling shower turned into a gushing thunderstorm. Sprinting back through the blinding rain, I returned to find my husband steadying a ladder for an employee under the awning of what turned out to be a kimono manufacturing company.
We made fumbling introductions with the handful of staff members that had gathered in the doorway and, noticing my drenched figure, a matronly woman offered me a hand towel. Through gestures and our limited overlap of languages, I accepted her invitation to take off my sneakers and retrieve fresh clothing from my suitcase. She led me to the back of the office where she laid out two sets of slippers and then downstairs to a locker room.
Dry and grateful, I rejoined the men in looking outside at the relentless rain. The taxi services were inundated, so we were even more thankful when our unexpected hosts kindly insisted on driving us to our hotel and passing on an extra umbrella as a “souvenir”.
The Monterey Hotel turned out to be on a bustling metropolitan avenue, and we laughed when we saw how close it was to the subway station. After bows of gratification and exchanging emails with the young men who drove us, an attentive staff welcomed us into the richly decorated lobby.
The graciousness we encountered during the storm was evident throughout our stay in Kyoto. Although we enjoyed the elegantly presented tapas styled meal where we traded our shoes for a pair of slippers and a balcony view of the Kamo River, it was in the unassuming establishments on Rokkaku Dori that we truly felt welcomed. Later that evening, a couple of local high school teachers engaged us in conversation at a sidewalk bar on the road. We shared impressions of Japan and United States over shochu and beer and they picked up another round just to prolong our chat. We lingered over our meal at the mom and pop grill where the women bridged the language gap with spirit and laughter while preparing mochi filled “pancakes” and noodles in front of us.
On a suggestion from the Osakan teachers, we visited the Kiyomizu-dera temple. The World Heritage sites’s colorfully ornate buildings and wealth of wooden prayer plaques were stunning against the lush mountain backdrop, but I favored the much more personal experience I shared at the Shunkoin Temple. A view of the meticulously maintained gardens, through the expansive windows, set the mood as the young Zen minister compassionately guided us through a practical group meditation session. Afterwards, the reverend shared the temples multi-denominational history and gave us a tour of its colorfully painted gold leaf screens and altar. He allowed us time to meander around the space and answered our questions. Over jade colored cups of traditional maccha tea, my fellow travelers and I exchanged stories of our amiable experiences in the ancient capital.
Three days after the afternoon rain, it was time to pick up bento boxes for the two and a half hour ride on the Hikari express train out of Kyoto station. We were anticipating the opportunity to savor the end of our Japanese holiday through a last whirl around Tokyo, but we would miss the accessibility of this cozier metropolis.