‘Mercedes’ by Modesto Flako Jimenez

2022 Dementia Spring Arts Impact Award recipient Modesto Flako Jimenez immerses viewers in Mercedes’ kitchen and life with dementia
Mercedes Stage Play is part of a group of programming that will, at its completion, provide therapeutic options and be documented for use by wider audiences outside of New York City.
‘Mercedes’ by Modesto Flako Jimenez

What is Mercedes and how do you describe it? 

Mercedes is a new multidisciplinary work in which I explore my Latine community’s relationship to dementia, familial bonds, and inherited trauma, alongside how our own identity can impact our mental health. A work in progress, Mercedes is a multidisciplinary art experience that explores our relationship to aging, dementia, and inherited trauma through a series of components: 1) a theater piece; 2) art therapy workshops; 3) a virtual reality healing room experience; and 4) a documentary to depict the entire project for wider audiences.

Myself and the ¡Oye! Group, of which this is a production, continued the development of Mercedes Stage Play during a residency at KAJE performance space in Gowanus, Brooklyn, where we put on the first workshop showing. The play is based around Mercedes’ life, including the ways in which she used art and writing to express herself at the end of her life. During the play, audiences are invited to an immersive experience:  the theater set is built to bring audience members on stage, where they have an opportunity to participate in making a meal to be served at the end of the show. The effect: audience members are transported to Mercedes’ life for the purposes of inspiring memory and sparking conversation, in partnership with trained experts, on their experiences with dementia

Who initially inspired you to grapple with dementia? 

After immigrating to America from the Dominican Republic as a child, I was raised by my grandmother, Mercedes, in Brooklyn. As an adult, I served as her caregiver as she battled dementia. While looking after my “mama,” I uncovered years of letters, receipts, and papers that document her forgotten impact on the Latine community. For years, she helped people immigrate to the United States and gain their footing in New York City. Her impact was far reaching, yet today little awareness of her sacrifices remains. The journey of care, memory, and discovery is the heart of my work, Mercedes.

What does it mean to you to have received the Dementia Spring Arts Impact Award? How has the award furthered your work?

I am honored to be a 2023 Dementia Spring Arts Impact Award recipient! With the help of the Dementia Spring Arts Impact Award, we will continue the development of Mercedes Stage Play in 2024.

What advice do you have for other artists who are telling stories of dementia through their work? 

To keep radically listening to the community and its needs.

This work is dedicated to: Mercedes, my grandmother

Find more about the ¡Oye! Group on its website.

What is a Spotlight?

The Dementia Arts Spotlight promotes visual and performing artists who are grappling with dementia through original work or innovative arts programs. The Spotlight—in a Q&A format where artists describe the details and significance of their work or program—connects each artist to the Dementia Spring community. Find examples of prior Dementia Arts Spotlights here. Know of an artist whose work should be Spotlighted? Send them this link!

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