MacNider Art Museum confronts memory loss stigma with “Portraits of Dementia”

The photographic exhibition Portraits of Dementia is now on display at the Charles H. MacNider Art Museum. It will be open for viewing through Aug. 16, 2024. This exhibition is sponsored locally by the Mason City Clinic Charitable Giving Fund.

More than 50 million people are living with dementia globally. In the United States, one in three seniors suffers with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia at the time of their death. And yet despite the millions of individuals and families affected, dementia is often a taboo subject with limited public awareness or discourse. Portraits of Dementia destigmatizes those living with dementia through moving portraits and stories of lives well lived.

Artist Joe Wallace has been a portrait photographer and storyteller for 20 years. Like many, Wallace has a deeply personal connection with dementia. His maternal grandfather and hero, Joe Jenkins, had Alzheimer’s. His maternal grandmother had vascular dementia. And in recent years, his mother has begun her journey with the disease. Wallace was frustrated by the common, one-dimensional narrative of dementia—futility, despair and loss.

These are real and important elements of the dementia journey, but focusing only on the narrowest of views, very little is done to change the stigma of those living with the disease. Wallace feels strongly that to give the audience courage to act in ways large and small, you must show the whole story.

Through his photographs and storytelling, Wallace shows not only the fear, loss, and despair, but also the love, connection, dignity and powerful humanity that always remain in the subjects, in the care-partners and in the families and communities. That is the only path to evolve the narrative and have a positive social change.

A diagnosis can become a mechanism for segregating those affected from society, making it easy to see only the label instead of the individual. As Carrie Salter-Richardson, diagnosed with dementia, says, “It is my hope that my story and the stories of others just like me will start a conversation and end the stigma that comes along with this disease.”

“People living with dementia must be seen as people first, not as their disease. Public recognition of the enduring humanity of those who live with disabilities, including cognitive disabilities, will decrease fear and stigma. Joe’s vivid photographs remind us of our shared humanity as well as the uniqueness of each person,” states Beth Soltzberg, director of Alzheimer’s/Related Disorders Family Support Program, Jewish Family and Children’s Service.

This exhibition is toured by ExhibitsUSA, the national touring exhibition program of Mid-America Arts Alliance. ExhibitsUSA sends more than 25 exhibitions on tour to over 100 small and mid-sized communities every year. 

The Charles H. MacNider Art Museum is free and open to the public.   Museum Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m., Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Closed Sundays and Mondays.


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