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‘What I Know Has Been Erased’ by Greet van Dam

Photographic design project visualizes the knowing and forgetting of the artist’s father in his journey with Lewy body dementia
‘What I Know Has Been Erased’ by Greet van Dam

What is What I Know Has Been Erased and how did it come to be? 

Wat ik weet is uitgewist…, or What I Know Has Been Erased in the Dutch-to-English translation, is a project about my father, Piet van Dam, who spent the last years of his life with Lewy body dementia. The series of photographic design pieces are inspired by the book Chiméres by J. Bernlef, and translated to my own situation. The starting point for this creative undertaking was to use my images to try to put myself in the place of “knowing and forgetting” that my father was in and to see how the world around him faded as he slowly lost his reality.  In creating the pieces, I worked with old (family) photos and the connection with walnuts as a metaphor for the degenerating brain.

Last year I revised the entire project again, with the insights I have gained since my father’s passing in 2006. I have omitted images and created and added others. I also wrote individual lyrics or poetry that accompanies a number of the images. My goal is to compile a book of the project with attention to appropriate design (a process that is in the final stages before printing and publication). Just like an earlier (personal) photo book project of mine, Good Enough, it is my hope that people will pick up What I Know Has Been Erased and find recognition with their own stories.

What I want to show—besides the complicated, sad, elusive side—is how I, as a daughter, cherished that last phase with my father.

Greet van Dam

What initially inspired you to grapple with dementia? 

Everyone experiences dementia in their own way. What I want to show—besides the complicated, sad, elusive side—is how I, as a daughter, cherished that last phase with my father. Despite the powerless, sad, and helpless moments, I was able to cling to the love and gentleness, which I hope my images can evoke in others.

How has working on dementia-related art changed you?

If you are confronted up close with the dementia process of the person you love, it is confrontational and full of mixed emotions. I am 60 and have recently made the switch to photography and completed a course. For me, my photography is a way to give language through my images, which I cannot do with words. With this project, I especially try to look back fondly on this phase with my father, in which we became closer than ever. Working with old photos, mixed media, and collage style—my signature—adds something to my interpretation of his process.

How has What I Know Has Been Erased been received? 

What I Know Has Been Erased was part of an exposition in the Hague in the Netherlands. During this exhibition, I searched for another way of showing some of the pictures apart from the prints; a large transparent voile with the portrait of my father moving in the wind, a photo of my father giving me a bath, cast in epoxy in a small cup and saucer, etc.

Those in attendance were immediately moved. It is a recognizable process for many and resulted in great conversations. Sometimes it confronts the viewer with their own sadness and powerlessness. I hope the book of the collection will do the same.

This work is dedicated to: It’s about and dedicated to my father. At the same time, it is dedicated to all who identify themselves with the subject. 

Find more from Greet van Dam 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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