‘Mona’s Hairbrush’ by Karen Webber & James Wilson

An abstract film that allows a fictional artist who is living with dementia to tell her own story.
Mona's Hairbrush

How do you describe Mona’s Hairbrush to future viewers?

The film Mona’s Hairbrush is a lyrical, abstract work of fiction that focuses on the interior life of one person living with dementia. We meet Mona, an 80-year-old painter living with dementia and enter her world—a selective, quiet non-sequential world of remembering and forgetting. The film is divided into 3 distinct sections: early, middle and late. As the film progresses, so does Mona’s dementia. Mona takes viewers on a journey of her early life in Puget Sound to the present moment, and asks them to listen to poetry and melody while watching images unfold. A birthday party begins and ends the film, lending it a frame.  

The film is a  joint effort between myself, Karen Webber, an actress, poet, and storyteller, and James M. WIlson, professional artist, technician, orthotist, and percussionist. Viewers of the film are treated to content rich in metaphor, repetition, and ritual. James created Mona’s visual world and I her auditory one.

Through a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, Mona’s Hairbrush was adapted into an hour-long virtual program: Since then, Mona’s Hairbrush has found community partners in caregiving organizations, libraries, senior centers, and memory units in Maryland. Discussion typically follows its viewing.

Slide 3: Visual components that make up Mona’s world in Mona’s Hairbrush were created by Jason M. Wilson, Slide 5: Behind the scenes of the visual compilation of the abstract film Mona’s Hairbrush, Slide 10: Visuals, coupled with Karen Webber’s voice over bring to life the world of Mona, a painter living with dementia.

Who inspires you to grapple with dementia?

Professionally, as a teaching artist with 25 years of experience employing different modalities of art to communicate and to heal, I have worked with older adults, many who are living with dementia. On a personal note, my father has had Dementia for over 20 years.

How has the work been received?

It is a very unique film and can help people see another way to frame the situation. Here is some verbatim feedback that we’ve gotten from our community partners. 

 “Mona’s Hairbrush is a very creative, moving depiction of the experience of someone living with a memory challenge. Our care partners shared the feeling that this gave them a new lens on the journey of their loved one. We are so fortunate to have shared this special video and discussion with our residents and staff.”

“For many people dementia is seen as ‘the end’. This film helps show that this isn’t always the case. It can also be the beginning of a new, creative, sometimes even joyful time.” 

Find more about Karen Webber on her website and James Wilson on his website.

Trailer for Mona’s Hairbrush, a production by Karen Webber and James M. Wilson.

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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