For 4 years I have volunteered at the Aras Ghaoth Dobhair with residents suffering from advanced stages of dementia. My own beloved grandfather had Alzheimer’s and lived with us during the last 4 years of his life.
At one point I started sketching some of the residents. I was getting to know them and getting fond of their faces. Then I started working on little portraits from photos. I didn’t want to put the emphasis on the devastating effects of dementia, but celebrate that inner spirit we get glimpses of. They are still themselves in their soul, and they are beautiful in their own right. Then the idea came to me to learn about their lives from family members and to accompany their portraits with little memento pieces. And it grew from there: I started gathering family photos too, and devising a way to put it all together.
I also approached families who cared for their loved ones at home.
It’s about showing another side to dementia: not just the heartbreaking aspect that a lot of us know so well. Not trying to hide away from it, but shifting the focus to show that individuals still have their dignity and deserve to be looked at and remembered. As they themselves forget and change, we tend to start only seeing their illness, and we too forget sometimes: we forget that they weren’t always like this, that they are unique individuals who led unique lives. So it’s homage to their humanity and a celebration of those lives.
I’m trying to bring art and community together by highlighting and recording a universal issue in a way that is local and specific: these are our neighbours, friends, family.
They may be forgetting, but we remember with them and for them.