‘Preserved Memories’ by Aazam Irilian

The multi-installation exhibition depicts dementia’s effects and shares the stories of those living with dementia.
Photo Caption: Personal memorabilia, accompanying the audio stories submitted by caregivers and loved ones, showcase the lives of those who are or have lived with dementia. The referee uniform is that of Moe Irilian, the artist’s husband.
Personal memorabilia, accompanying the audio stories submitted by caregivers and loved ones, showcase the lives of those who are or have lived with dementia. The referee uniform is that of Moe Irilian, the artist’s husband.

Tell us about Preserved Memories

Preserved Memories is a special installation exhibition in honor of my husband and all those suffering or who have suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Preserved Memories consists of drawings, assemblage sculptures, family photographs, and recorded stories of shared experiences. 

The exhibition includes drawings of stylized figures filled with brain cells on panels of Pellon fabric representing the inner changes the individual goes through. Altered family photographs demonstrate the individual fading away from our lives. Sculptural assemblages of personal and meaningful belongings, preserved in salt crystals, represent stories of family members who have lost their memories. Recorded stories told by loved ones share precious memories they will hold dear for the rest of their lives. 

The title reflects on our responsibility to preserve memories for ourselves and our loved ones, specifically for those who are battling this irreversible disease. It is also important for us to bring attention to this disease, to educate, and to inform others. As the  wife of an individual who was living with Alzheimer’s, I take this responsibility very seriously.

Who initially inspired you to grapple with dementia? 

My husband of 43 years was diagnosed with early-onset dementia in 2017 when he was about 65 years old. In the process of researching and reading about others’ experiences as caregivers, I decided to tell our stories—stories of the ones suffering from the disease and the loved ones coping with its complications.

It took me a year to decide on the project and close to a year to complete and exhibit it.Specifically with Preserved Memories, I am trying to put a human face to dementia and to communicate that the person we love is still in there.

How does Preserved Memories fit into your overall body of work?

In general, through my art I strive to tell a story, create an experience, or evoke an emotion. I want the viewer to bring her/his experience into each piece and find or form his own story viewing the work. Previously, I have done two other installations, Dare to Be A Woman (2004) and Stoning (2005). Dare to Be A Woman consisted of sculptures, writings and paintings, and Stoning was part of a 5-woman exhibit titled No More, Let’s Live
With Preserved Memories, it was evident to me from the beginning that it needed to be large and multidimensional—a painting, in my mind, would not do the scope of project justice.

How has Preserved Memories been received? 

Preserved Memories opened in December 2022. The opening night was very emotional for those in attendance. 

One of the major parts of this installation are the sculptural assemblages created out of personal memorabilia and preserved in salt—for example, my husband’s soccer gear representing him as a referee —and this became a focal point of the exhibition. Each item represents an individual’s story, shared by family members, recorded, and played during the opening. I collected these stories through a Google number I had set up; (661) 347-6849‬. With this number people can call and leave their stories without having to talk to anyone. Some people had to call 2 or 3 times to be able to finish their story.

Aazam Irilian, the artist, pictured at right with her son, Sia Irilian, and the referee uniform representing her husband, Moe, among the exhibition of Preserved Memories.

Another component of the installation that was emotional for those attending, was the series Fading Family Portraits, made up of photographs printed on Dura-lar clear paper. These images depict families of different cultural backgrounds who have suffered from dementia, revealing that the disease is not discriminatory. In a succession of photos, each face appears less and less clear, with ghostlike faces gradually fading away altogether, emblematic of how recognizability fades for a person with Alzheimer’s. 

Each of these exhibition sections created in the viewer a sensation of loss and legacy, of both the joy and pain of remembering.

What are your plans for Preserved Memories in the future?

At this point, I am working on the next phase of the installation, pushing myself artistically to go beyond familiar mediums. I also will be incorporating more of the multimedia into the next iteration of the project. My goal is to grow and expand this project and make it a traveling exhibit to bring more attention to this disease.

This work is dedicated to: Preserved Memories is dedicated to my husband, Moe Irilian, an engineer, chef, soccer player, and referee, a dedicated husband, and a loving father and grandfather. 
Find more from Aazam on Instagram.

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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