A Show of Hands (2010)
This project was an artist residency in a London care home with over 30 participants living with dementia and other mental health needs, that culminated in a book of photographic portraits of each participant with their collated life stories and several images exhibited at the home.
The participants took part in several weekly interactions with artist Hester Jones, who worked one-to-one, or in small groups, to make photographic portraits, and collate the fascinating life stories behind each pair of hands. The project included hand reflexoloy with Faye Penford, a trained reflexologist, which proved to be a calming and therapeutic way to help engage with each person.
Scientific studies have demonstrated there are more nerve connectors between the brain and the hands than any other part of the human body. Human beings subconciously express many emotions, thoughts and feelings with their hands, such as love, anger, stress, fear or affection.
What is so unique to the human species is that we not only use our hands to communicate and express ourselves, but to perform such a variety of daily tasks: such as preparing food, cleaning, dressing ourselves, and brushing our teeth. Or to create works of art, drive vehicles, write letters, build houses, perform brain surgery, and play musical instruments. We use them to care for our loved ones, both young and old, or defend ourselves from an attacker. But in the words of one 93 year old participant,
"We take our hands for granted."
It has been demonstrated that by participating in the arts, people living with dementia can live a more enriched and fulfilling life, with relief from confusion and anxiety. The creative part of the brain remains intact right until the later stages of the disease.
Raymond Tallis in The Hand: A Philosophical Inquiry into Human Being, sums up the hand perfectly -
"This hand - this professor of grasping, seizing, pulling, plucking, picking, pinching, pressing, patting, poking, prodding, fumbling, squeezing, crushing, throttling, punching, rubbing, scratching, groping, stroking, caressing, fingering, drumming, shaping, lifting, flicking, catching, throwing and much else besides - is the master tool of human life."
You can follow my Handkind blog on dementia and arts participation here