Memory is Grey – An alternative perspective on memory loss

This exhibition is based on my experience as a person and as an artist facilitator with people who happen to have some form of memory loss (and their loved ones). I have called the exhibition Memory is grey because I think that the idea of memory and its loss as being black or white, ie present or absent, is too simplistic and dehumanising. I think loss of memory is more complex and nuanced than is currently portrayed in society. I attended a meeting recently on Art and Aging and one of the speakers was a man with Alzheimer’s disease. He told the audience that his life changed when he got his dementia diagnosis – “I went into the doctor’s room with my wife as a husband, father and respected work colleague and I came out as a client/patient with my carer”.

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Anne Basting, in her book, Forget Memory, offers an alternative view of memory loss and advocates that there are too much negativity and fear associated with memory loss in our culture and that we need to adopt a more humane, accepting and compassionate approach to what is a human condition/disability.  We are living longer and destined, in most cases, to eventually become ill and or possibly experience some memory loss, unless we are knocked down by the proverbial bus or die in our sleep. As Anne Basting argues, dementia is a human story “…not an unmitigated tragedy”.

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I asked permission of ten people with dementia/ memory loss to do their portraits and wanted to portray them as layered and rich and complicated as they themselves are. The ten people portrayed have, like everyone, pasts which are both ordinary and extraordinary. They are beloved daughters, sisters, mothers, sons, interior designers, homemakers, nurses, beauty therapists, friends and neighbours. While doing the preparatory drawings and taking photographs I got to know my sitters a little more personally and in this relaxed and quiet environment enjoyed our talk and communication together. I wondered if more times or opportunities like this could be created with people with memory loss perhaps life would be better for all of us including those of us not affected as yet by memory loss.

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As I imagine memory as layers which we peel back, close over, dip in and out of, add to or erase from, I decided to use layering as a method in the creation of the portraits.  I used four layers or surfaces in each portrait bar one and allowed for space between the layers, rubbing out and adding in with oil pastel continually. I used perspex sheets as I wanted to create depth and transparency so that the viewer can see from one layer to the next and build up an image that can be viewed from slightly different angles to give a more complicated three-dimensional view of the portrait.   I wondered what it would be like for me if I forgot so I did a very quick (about two minutes) memory drawing of each of the portraits and used this as my third layer.

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I invite you to look and see the individuality, the humanity and ordinariness and extraordinariness of my sitters. The portraits are not for sale and will be gifted to the sitters and their families.


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