Memories Are Made of This is an exploration of positivity and hope, even though the premise explores Dementia.

CANBERRA CONTEMPORARY ARTSPACE ~ MANUKA 5TH SEPT UNTIL 15TH SEPTEMBER 2019

During the first stages of Dementia, it is difficult to tell just by looking at someone if they have the disease. Over the last 2 years I have created a series of portraits of couples living with Dementia who attend the Alchemy Chorus; one has the disease and one does not. I have also included portraits of the volunteers, but by not informing the viewer as to which people in the exhibition have the disease I aim to illustrate that though the person who has Dementia may behave differently, they are still the same person.

Acceptance, tolerance and inclusiveness is important in any community and even more so when someone’s cognitive ability is reduced. As part of the project I have collected many written life stories of many of the couples.

Memories Are Made of This is a song title which aptly describes the love and community of singing together. Music is powerfully potent for people living with Dementia. For families living with this insidious disease, it is so important to make time to do community activities for as long as possible. Singing in a choir is an enjoyable social outing for anyone and also those with Dementia. It is also a time for spouses/carers to debrief!

100% print sales are being donated for Dementia research, through  Dementia Australia

I was going to print the whole exhibition over the July school holidays but the very lovely Marc Payet, the General Manager International Sales of ILFORD came to the rescue and he and the team at Ilford printed the exhibition. This then allows me to donate ALL funds raised to Dementia research. I am truly grateful and honoured to have been recognised. THANK-YOU Marc and Ilford!! The prints were made on ILFORD GALERIE GOLD FIBRE PEARLa beautiful heavy weight paper and the prints look fabulous!!!

                                                      

James and Silvia
James and Silvia

When couples attend the Alchemy Chorus to sing, they sometimes havethe chance to tell their stories. When I asked couples to share their stories with me it was a humbling experience.

 

This is Jim and Silvia’s story.

James (Jim) Douglas and Silvia Xavier

 

We were both born and raised in geographically tiny places: one difference was that most people we knew had at least heard of Macau and Hong Kong, while West Wyalong, to James’s eternal lament, was never even a fixture on the ABC News weather map. There was also the matter of population size. He often remarked that he had married not into a family, but a race, jesting that my relations across the globe probably outnumbered his hometown’s inhabitants. 

 

I’ve heard of men being admired for their broad shoulders but I found James’s broad horizons irresistible, though the all-purpose shoulders were more than adequate too. I loved how he embraced my Luso-Asian family, with their Mediterranean and Chinese traditions trailing back centuries, and delighted in how they’d make their presence felt with boisterous multilingual soundscapes, along a register that ranged from heart-stirring Portuguese fado to ear-twanging Canto-pop. I twigged his talent as a strategist when he mastered the local names of his favourite foods. It helped that he was born with near-perfect pitch and grew up in a home that resounded with music. “Oh, what a lovely surprise,” he’d enthuse, as my family and friends laid out banquets for their appreciative Australian guest who reciprocated with his fine singing voice. In fair exchange, I enjoyed sunny hospitality and joyful soirées in his family home in that singular country town, enriched by the remarkable contributions of community-spirited residents like my parents-in-law.

 

Three years after our marriage in 1975, we set off with backpacks to test the worldly limits of our modest budget, returning home to Canberra with plans to move to Bangladesh a year later, carrying the precious cargo of our six week old daughter and youthful ideals in development aid. James had outgrown the domestic confines of the NSW Forestry Commission and the Commonwealth Public Service, and I, a hybrid cultivar with keen academic interests, trusted that foreign soils would suit me just fine. The arrival of our son in 1982 made us a family of four in Malaysia, Indonesia and the USA. We raised what parenting experts in those years termed Third Culture Kids, or TCKs: we had no clue how the phenomenon would affect our kids but we very much liked the selves they grew into.

 

In his role as a forest economist for the FAO and the World Bank in the intensely politicised theatre of international forestry and climate change, James would harness his gift for ‘strategery’ (a malaprop we adopted for fun during our 16 years in Washington DC, courtesy of George W Bush). Language, now differently muddled, remains a shared passion after 45+ years together. So too music, and our enthusiasm for big walks and long talks, once with far horizons in view but these have narrowed since James was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease at age 69, cruelly premature. 

 

As a fresher at Sydney Uni in 1964, James had re-named himself Jim. I never asked him why but since I met him a decade later as James, thus he remains to me, his family and mine. He never seemed to mind that I didn’t address him as Jim nor did he mind my cultural and sentimental attachment to my birth name. Names come to him only sporadically now. Names matter less than the love and laughter we continue to enjoy even as we sadly have to live apart. Often I don’t understand what he’s saying but I can see the legendary wit and ‘strategery’ are there still, in his smile and the twinkle in his eye. 

by Silvia