Artist Xi Hsu’s exhibition is made up over two hundred portraits. Together, they provide a balanced view of dementia. They are not only portraits of sufferers, but also portraits of how we may be seen, through their eyes.
The exhibition, Searching for the Vanishing Subject in Portraits of Dementia forms part of Xi’s research project for his Doctor of Creative Arts, which he is undertaking a the University of Wollongong.
Since 2011, he has been making weekly visits to the Boronia Hostel in the UnitingCare Mayflower Village in Gerringong, as a volunteer artist. Being connected with these residents for a three year period has enabled Xi to capture the progressive nature of dementia in the exhibition.
Part of the exhibition is a series of instant photographs, which are in rows along the hallway. Alan, a resident at Boronia and Xi took photos of each other and they are displayed next to each other. As you walk further down the hallway, you’ll notice the absence of Xi. As Alan’s condition worsened he could no longer press the shutter button and take his photo.
Down the hallway is a room filled with painted portraits. Each of the 32 portraits was painted live and is of a different resident. Xi had to work quickly to capture their expression, as residents with dementia can be unpredictable; they may move away, fall asleep or lapse into a trance-like condition. The results are fragmented faces, of different states of being.
The next group of portraits have a completely different feeling to the rest: anxiety, grief and anger is unmistakable in these chaotic, self-portraits. The layers of oil paint, and shapes makes the image within the painting unclear. The paintings represent how we may be perceived, through the eyes of people with dementia.
Through a series of portraits, Xi has managed to portray the facets and stages of dementia, in an interesting and insightful way. Most of the individual portraits of the residents will be given to their families at the end of the doctoral process.
The exhibition is on show until the 23rd of May, at the University of Wollongong’s FCA Gallery.
By Janai Velez