An unending shadow: Artists raising dementia awareness

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Acclaimed mother and daughter artists Ann and Sophie Cape have highlighted the devastating impact of dementia through an exhibition of new art works.

Ann and Sophie Cape are all too familiar with the cruelty of dementia and the long shadow that it casts on sufferers, carers and their families.

A close family member has frontotemporal dementia, previously known as Pick's Disease, one of the most challenging dementia disorders.

"It affects many people,” Ann said. “It affects families very dramatically.

“It's not just the person with dementia. It has a huge impact on the whole family that people don't see.”

And the Capes are not alone.

Australia has an ageing population and conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's disease are becoming more widespread.

More than 300,000 Australians currently live with dementia and the number of cases is expected to triple by 2050,  when an estimated one million Australians will have  the disease.

Personal expressions 

Ann is one of Australia's foremost portrait artists, while Sophie is recognised for her large-scale abstract expressionist works.

Now, mother and daughter have come together to create a series of powerful paintings and drawings for an exhibition about dementia at the Mosman Art Gallery in Sydney.

Sharing a studio in Sydney, the women took a very different approach to putting together the exhibition.

For Sophie, it was deeply personal.

"I decided to take on the issue of Dad, as the starting point. So, it was very personal," she said.

"To start with, I had to really think about what dad was going through, what we'd gone through, the father I used to know and love, and the father I now have. And that was very intense."

Ann chose to go into nursing homes, to draw and paint dementia sufferers and their carers.

"For me, dealing with it day to day, it was hard to actually focus on how to present this. And I decided to take a very general view of dementia," she said.

"I didn't want it to be all about him, because there are so many people, so many friends, everyone you talk to these days, has been touched by something along these lines."

Ann has created poignant images, some with "ghostlike" faces, denoting the fading personalities of dementia sufferers.

Sophie's abstract works are  described as confronting, dark and intense, portraying an emotional landscape and an interior world.

Confronting reality

Sophie used to be a professional athlete, before injury forced her to give up downhill skiing and sprint cycling.

"When I started painting, it was a way for me to cope with that trauma of losing those Olympic dreams," she said.

Katrina Cashman, the Senior Curator at the Mosman Art Gallery, said both artists were brave to take on a challenging and confronting exhibition.

"And of course, they had this connection with a family member with dementia that they're living with, at the moment. This situation, that they are experiencing themselves," she said.

Definitely, their own personal experiences have been the catalyst, but they're trying to reach out,  to create an exhibition that other people can connect with."

Katrina said Ann and Sophie had created an extraordinary body of work.

"Ann's done some wonderful portraits of dementia sufferers, and their carers. Ann's works are just  so impressive and she absolutely captures those different moments in, I guess, the experience," she said.

"Sophie Cape's work is completely arresting. You experience these pieces that just stop you in your tracks....they're wonderfully layered, there's so much texture, so much meaning in the works."

Both artists wanted to get Australians thinking and talking about dementia, and how it affects so many people, including the carers and families of sufferers.

"An Unending Shadow: Works Exploring Dementia by Ann and Sophie Cape"  will be opened (on Wednesday night) by  Dementia Awareness Campaigner, Sue Pieters-Hawke, the daughter of the late Hazel Hawke, who raised awareness of dementia, by sharing, with the Australian people, her own battle with Alzheimer's Disease.

The exhibition runs until the end of November.

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