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Work by Hazel.

Work by Hazel.

Exhibition offers window into minds of people living with dementia

In connection with Dementia Action Week, Drawing Life, the charity which holds life drawing classes with people living with dementia, has arranged an exhibition of work at A Wave of Dreams Arts Lab in St Leonards. Nick Terdre reports.

Drawing Life is the brainchild of Judy Parkinson, who four years ago felt there was a need to establish something creative for the dementia community, change perceptions about dementia through drawing and produce some amazing imagery with the power to teach the teachers a thing or two.

Drawing Life regularly holds classes in various care homes in Hastings and St Leonards which have proved an effective means of bringing down the barriers of marginalisation and isolation which cut dementia sufferers off from society.

The work has been supported by People’s Projects lottery funding gained last year and an Arts Council England grant awarded for a project this summer, Judy tells HOT. Further fundraising efforts are in the pipeline.

Exhibitions have been held at venues including Hastings Arts Forum and Kino-Teatr. Now, as part of Dementia Action Week which runs from Monday 20 to Sunday 26 May, Drawing Life is mounting an exhibition of the work by those living with dementia in the newly established A Wave of Dreams Arts Lab in St Leonards.

Typical class

On Wednesday afternoon a typical class will be held where two life models will strike poses and local artists will encourage the participants to make some marks on paper, as Judy puts it. The class will be followed by a private view.

Transferring a life model onto paper.

Transferring a life model onto paper.

Judy explains how the sessions work. “In this context we have realised that drawing is a proactive rather than passive task, giving participants a sense of purpose,” she says. “There is always a remarkable sense of concentration during classes, sometimes laughter and song.

“We show drawings round and discuss, giving participants a sense of inclusion and pride, provoking surprising and stimulating reactions. Carers have told us that drawing reduces anxiety and people remain calm for at least an hour after the sessions.”

The sessions bring benefits for carers too, she points out. “Drawing gives carers a different perspective and new subjects to talk about with those who may have lost the art of conversation.”

She quotes Celia’s daughter, who said, “We have a chance to enter their world without the frustrations which often accompany communication,” while according to Elizabeth’s husband and carer, “The sessions are more than just an activity for those with dementia, they also provide unique and significant support for the carers. Which makes us better carers.”

Life drawing the key

Singing has also proved an effective means of breaking down the isolation of those with dementia. But for Judy life drawing is the key.

“Figurative drawing as a means of personal expression is an enduring theme in western art dating back millennia,” she says. “The presence of a live human figure gives our participants a visual and dynamic challenge that encourages self-expression that releases an inner sense of self, marking their still relevant place in the world.”

Work by Elizabeth.

Work by Elizabeth.

Are the drawings they produce art? It’s an intriguing question. “Picasso said it took him a lifetime to learn to draw like a child,” says Judy. “We put this typically paradoxical statement to the test. We inevitably compare the pure marks of a child without any life experience with those made by someone with a denuded memory and nearly a lifetime behind them. Are these pure or impure expressions? Naïve or knowing?”

Whatever the answer, the important point is that the activity of life drawing reopens the channels of communication for a period.

“This exhibition of selected drawings will be a window onto a section of society that can easily be sidelined,” Judy says. “We hope it will offer insights to issues surrounding living with dementia, and the value of art and caregiving.”

 

Drawing Life Exhibition of Work A Wave of Dreams Arts Lab, 48 Kings Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN37 6 DY. Wednesday 22 May, private view 3.30-7pm. Thursday 23 and Friday 24 May, 12-5pm.

Posted 11:34 Thursday, May 16, 2019 In: Health Matters

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