Drawing meaning from dementia

Senior University Teacher David Reid  went to Sheffield College in Hillsborough and made a pitch to 60 Access and Level 3 Foundation Diploma in Art & Design students. David, who is the coordinator of the annual South Yorkshire Dementia Creative Arts Exhibition teamed up with College staff Fran Grant and Carole Ellerton to bring dementia onto the Art and Design curriculum at Hillsborough.

You can listen to Sheffield College students explain their approaches to drawing dementia in a BBC Radio Sheffield interview on the Rony Robinson show from the link on the right.

The pitch was for students to compete to design the poster image for our 9th annual exhibition, to be held in Sheffield and, at our sister exhibition, in Detroit in June 2017. The theme for 2017 is 'Places and Times' and so the image needed to convey this theme. The winning poster image will also be used on the exhibition @SYDCAE Twitter account and head up the exhibition Facebook page. The winner's preferred contact details will appear every time the poster image is used, raising their profile regionally and internationally.

David shared his experience with us...

By means of an introduction, I set the students the task of 'drawing' dementia. The purpose was to encourage them to begin thinking about the pitch by first reflecting upon their own personal understandings of dementia, to try and illustrate what they already know or feel. No words were permitted.

 The range of images they produced were really, really interesting and the quality of many of these quick sketches were simply breathtaking. There were sketches of faces contorted in anxiety, the palm of a hand drawn by a man originally from a tribe in the Cameroon/Gabon area of Africa - and he explained how, there, palm-reading is a normal way of identifying ailments in people (could have talked with him ALL DAY), a sketch of a woman holding another woman round the waist (but it was explained that the intention was to show how a person with dementia might seek to keep themselves together - the two women were the same woman!!), a sketch of a woman with what seemed like an axe or hammer above her head (explained by the artist to represent a sense of what can happen next in dementia with one's life 'power' or 'strength', it can destroy us or keep us alive...a man from Kurdistan who had things to say but couldn't quite get the English in the short time we had. There was a lad whose image was of a person's brain turning to pixels, and he explained it must like when your hard drive is damaged beyond repair...very 21st century and all so engaged and stimulating.

After we discussed what the group felt and thought about dementia I provided some background information, about how thinking about dementia has changed over time, about how people affected by dementia should expect to live fulfilling lives. I also pointed out that the poster image is for the exhibition, to encourage people to be interested in coming to see creative artwork produced by people affected by dementia. Conveying the theme, Places and Times, is their challenge.

To me, as a dementia education specialist, I am thrilled that this link with Sheffield College means that dementia is on the curriculum for Sheffield art and design students and I am very grateful to the College staff and students for their wholehearted response.

Competition result

Students submitted their designs/images via the @SYDCAE Twitter account on Friday 30th of September.

The top 5, including the winning image, were announced at 9am on Monday 3rd October at Hillsborough College.

The winning images

1st place and Winner: Nadheer Jasim (couple and birds, sunset) @Nadheer_Jasim

Dementia Image

2nd place: Kai Lynn 

Dementia image

3rd Place: Ariane Martin - Box sculpture

Dementia image


Joint 4th: Daria Stokes "key"

Dementia image

Joint 4th: Racheal Gallagher "blue"

Dementia image