Wednesday 21 March 2018

'We need to remember these people led full and rich lives'

‘Portraits’ by Maria Gasol, a Barcelona-born artist, is a tribute to older people who suffer from dementia
‘Portraits’ by Maria Gasol, a Barcelona-born artist, is a tribute to older people who suffer from dementia

Celine Naughton

The smiling face with kind blue eyes and soft grey hair is a touching portrait of Kate Gallagher, now in her 90s and being cared for in a special unit for people with dementia at Áras Gaoth Dobhair nursing home in Donegal.

It's the work of Barcelona-born artist Maria Gasol, who wanted to capture the qualities of the Gortahork native, who is described by her family and her friends as "a neighbourly, kind, generous, big-hearted woman".

"Kate was a hard-working dairy farmer who loved animals and being in the outdoors, and to this day she's a huge supporter of Donegal GAA and rugby," says Ms Gasol, whose poignant art project 'Portraits' is a tribute to older people with dementia in the Gaoth Dobhair area.

"When I moved to Ireland 13 years ago I volunteered once a week in the nursing home," says Ms Gasol.

"My grandfather had Alzheimer's and he died when I was a teenager, so it resonated with me.

"At first when I visited the residents, I read them stories, made tea and kept them company," she said.

"Then I started sketching them, and the response from families and staff was so positive, I thought, how can I expand this to capture not just a resemblance of who they are now, but to pay homage to the people they were?"

Supported by Ealaín na Gaeltachta and Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny, the resulting collection, which includes portraits by the artist, personal items donated by families, video, music, old photographs and text, will be exhibited at An Gailearaí Gaoth Dobhair next May as part of the 2018 Bealtaine programme.

"People with dementia are forgotten by society," says Ms Gasol.

"Families love and support them, but in the wider community they're not visible. We could forget they even exist.

"We need to remember that these people were not always like that.

"They were vibrant members of their community who led full and rich lives.

"It's very healing for families to talk about their loved ones in a different way, not just tending to their everyday needs.

"When the exhibitions are done, I will donate the portraits and videos to the families involved," she said.

"It will be good for them to have a piece of family history recorded for posterity."

Irish Independent

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