Gortahork artist portrays dementia in a different light

Artist portrays 'the other side of dementia' in an upcoming exhibition which will open this May in Gaoth Dobhair.

Michelle NicPhaidin


Michelle NicPhaidin


Hugh McGarvey from Brinalack

An exhibition 'We Remember With You' which will celebrate the lives of those who live with dementia, will open in Gaoth Dobhair on May 19th.
The exhibition includes 25 portraits, collage, text and video to relay her message to the viewer.
The artist, Maria Gasol, originally from Barcelona lives in Gortahork.
“My own beloved grandfather had Alzheimer's and lived with us during the last four years of his life, so I was very familiar with dementia from a young age,” she said.
The mother-of-two who has made Gortahork her home volunteers with dementia patients in Áras Ghaoth Dobhair nursing home.
She began to paint portraits of some residents she was getting to know and later involved the families in sharing life stories, memories and photos.

Remembering unique life before illness
The exhibition aims to replace part of the void of forgetfulness by remembering those unique lives before the illness took over.
“For three years I have volunteered at Áras Ghaoth Dobhair as a befriender with residents suffering from advanced stages of dementia,” she said.
Maria has always been passionate about her art and it came naturally to her to begin to draw and paint the people that she was meeting in Áras Ghaoth Dobhair.
“I didn’t want to put the emphasis on the devastating effects of dementia but celebrate that inner spirit we sometimes get glimpses of,” she said.
The Gortahork-basesd artist looks past the dementia and in doing so catches glimpses of the wonderful being and soul that is present at different times.
“They are still themselves in their soul, they are trapped in their own mind, slipping away, but they are there somewhere, and they are beautiful in their own right,” she said.

(pictured below Ellen Duffy from Annagry)

Beautiful moments of clarity

It was these beautiful moments of clarity that Maria was seeing that inspired her to learn more about the individuals and their lives from their families.
She had painted small portraits of some of the people in Áras Ghaoth Dobhair and from there she progressed to adding small written memento pieces to accompany them.
From there she began to consider adding a small video piece to accompany her work and devising a way to put it all together.
“I chatted to families to get information about the lives of their loved ones: what they were like, their family history, what they did and what made them tick before their illness, which I then interpreted and tried to encapsulate into collage works which contain images and text.
“I also asked for family photos that I’ve edited together in a video with other images,” she said.

A gifted artist

Maria predominantly focused on people who were in Áras Ghaoth Dobhair but she also approached families who cared for their loved ones at home.
Dementia is a universal issue. However, Maria has used her gift of art to create a picture of the issue on a local more tangible basis.
She has also created a wonderful body of work that examines a universal issue in a different and refreshing manner which shows a different dimension to an illness.
“At one stage I approached Ealáin na Gaeltachta and they really liked the idea, I think because it brought together art, social awareness and community.
“It’s a universal issue but it’s presented in a way that’s very local, as I’m portraying twenty five people from the three parishes: Cloughaneely, Gweedore and the Rosses,” she said.
Maria was delighted that as her project began to come to fruition when the Regional Cultural Center came on board alongside Creative Ireland.
“The exhibition is not about dementia; or rather 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. In this case remembered particularly as they were before the illness took over, for them and for their families,” she said.
From her experience, Maria can see the process that people undergo when they begin to get ill.
“As they themselves forget and change, that process is , or can be, so devastating and overwhelming that we tend to start only seeing their illness, and we almost begin also to see them all under the same unifying label of “suffering with dementia,” 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 a celebration of those lives. They may be forgetting, but we remember for them,” she said.

Exhibition opens in May

The exhibition opens in An Gailearaí, Aislann Center, Industrial Park, Derrybeg on Saturday, May 19th.
The exhibition is free and will run until June 29th. This exhibition is part of An Gailearaí's commitment to social and community engagement.
The project is supported by Ealaín na Gaeltachta, Creative Ireland, the Regional Cultural Centerand is also part of the Bealtaine Festival, 2018.