‘These Clothes Are Not Mine’ by Katie Benson

Artist documents caregiving with her mother for their matriarch who was living with Alzheimer’s disease over 5 years.
These Clothes Are Not Mine is a photo documentary covering the span of 5 years as the artist and her mother cared for their matriarch.

Please describe These Clothes Are Not Mine and how it came to be.

These Clothes Are Not Mine is a photo documentary of my grandmother, mother, and I experienced as patient and caregivers over the span of 5 years. In providing care to my 92-year-old grandmother, my mother and I faced challenges of patience, constant readjustments to our expectations, and prioritizing our own self-care.

My grandmother experienced advanced Alzheimer’s disease for the last several years until her recent passing. She could no longer remember who her family members were, and she needed step-by-step instructions for things like getting dressed and walking to the kitchen. Watching this disease destroy the person she once was was not easy, nor was it pleasant for her to live in a state of constant confusion and distress.

The images are relatable across the dementia experience, giving caregivers a safe place to raise awareness and educate the community, discuss their experiences, and share support. I hope this work brings awareness and acknowledgment to the challenges inherent with this disease.

How did caregiving inspire you to grapple with dementia?

I was inspired to create this body of work as a coping mechanism, a way to work through my emotions as I experienced the weight of this role. So often, people with dementia are shut out and ignored by society, even by the people who are supposed to love them. I wanted to be a reminding voice that these people are still here and deserve dignity and acknowledgment. My mother and I were woefully uneducated in the beginning, as almost everyone is, and I wanted to create a discussion about dementia that would pique the interest of those who may not have thought much about it before.

How has working on dementia-related art changed you?

Honestly, it has me terrified of a similar fate. So often this affliction runs in families. Being on the other side of this experience and looking back through my work makes me cringe. Not because the work is bad, but because the memories are painful and serve as a potential foreshadowing of being a caregiver again to my own mother and then needing care myself.

It was an extremely vulnerable body of work to make, and I find myself now making work that is less exhausting, taking a respite from the vulnerability and focusing on lighter themes. At the same time this series was therapeutic, it also took a lot out of me. I’m not saying I’ll never make this kind of work again, I just recognize that I need a respite.

How has These Clothes Are Not Mine been received?

I have been told by multiple gallery directors where this work has been shown that it was very well-received, that viewers talked about pieces they related to in their own experiences caring for loved ones, some of them in tears as they found company in my images. Friends have referred other friends to my shows and my website to help them see they are not alone in their struggles with caring for a loved one with dementia. It is such a lonely experience, and I am pleased that others are feeling a little less alone because of my work.

I am glad I made this work and that it continues to serve a positive purpose after the end of my family’s ordeal. I would encourage anyone going through the dementia caregiving experience to prioritize self-care and to find a suitable creative outlet. Reach out to others in similar spaces and be there for each other. Know that you are not alone, and help others know that they are not alone either.

Find more from Katie Benson 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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