Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Gift of Dementia Darnings

My brother and I are now in our 60's, and I am a grandfather, yet our mother is still alive at the age of 92 -- and a half! She is living comfortably in a nursing home and we attempt to be faithful in our visiting, sometimes arranging to be there together and other times with our spouses. She always seems pleased to see us. She chuckles at the videos of her great-grandchildren and listens intently to scripture.

We trust that she still knows us and she responds readily to photos from the past. It is the present which is coming unraveled. She lives with dementia, which can unsettle her contentment in the late afternoon, and some days she can't complete a sentence. We do our best to connect her with her own story without making it an unattainable goal.

I am intrigued by an art project by Jenni Dutton which is described in Selvedge magazine:

As long as she can remember, Jenni Dutton has always made things; weaving nests for imaginary birds as a child and making faces out of wet concrete. She frequently drew, painted and experimented with customising clothes. Eventually going to art school, Jenni later became an art teacher with plenty of ti
When she left teaching, she began to experiment with making conceptual clothing, amongst which were dresses made from human hair, corsets made from fish skins. Influenced by fairy tales, myths and legends, the work became darker with currents of unease. She made a series of shoes, again experimenting with different man-made and natural materials.
me to research other artists and to experiment with different materials, tools and techniques. 

The Dementia Darnings were started in 2011 whilst Jenni was a carer for her mother, who was developing dementia. She began exploring ways of engaging with the past, often looking at old photo albums. She would use stitching to 'draw' likenesses of family members and her mother would enjoy watching her create these pictures of familiar faces.
The name 'Darnings' implies mending and repair, as Jenni builds up the individual stitches to create a mesh it does resemble the technique of darning.

I think this project is brilliant. Not only are these images creative, they capture the truth that our lives are woven together from so many materials, so many experiences. When these begin to unravel an individual often knows and mourns, and so do those who love them. Sometimes the best we can do is to honour what we remember and still cherish.


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