Loving the Ravaged Mind

"Atrophied" by Maria Olga Meneses

Disconnected Fragments is a photo documentary about an 88-year-old woman, Livia Maria Escobar, living with the disease of dementia. The photographer, her daughter, Maria Olga Meneses, has recorded her mother’s devastating illness through a series of portraits interspersed with photographs of the natural world that place her (and by extension, all of us) metaphorically within the broadest spectrum of the life cycle. This exhibition of streaming images is on view at the Tollbooth Gallery, 11th and Broadway, through Feb. 29.

"Faded Connections" by Maria Olga Meneses

The exhibit includes casual, lifelong snapshots of Escobar in her prime; but it is Meneses’ black-and-white field photographs that provide an unexpectedly harrowing underpinning; sometimes out of focus, or quavering, they articulate a psychological fragility, “How I envision the brain being atrophied through the process of dementia,” she says. “The images depict my interpretation of confusion, loss of language [and] personal withdrawal from social contact.” The camera offers a vehicle by which she can participate in Livia Maria Escobar’s increasingly solitary journey.

"Mama, 1940." Photo courtesy of Maria Olga Meneses

“My mother has been suffering from dementia for about 15 years, and I have been taking care of her for the last five years. I have seen the devastation of a beautiful person [who goes] from begging God to keep her from losing her mind when she first experienced the symptoms of this disease, to the present moment when she hardly knows me.” The artist has not turned away from the hallucinations, violent behavior, delusions, depression, agitation, and feelings of persecution that mark the progression of the illness; on the contrary, with courage and compassion she has entered deeply into these final stages of life with her camera.

Meneses bought her first camera at age 14, “And began my best journey ever of living in the moment.” An environmentalist with a degree in education, she finds solace in the beauty and ceaseless processes of nature.

"Mama, 2006" by Maria Olga Meneses

“What pulls me forward in my work is my mother, who has been suffering from this illness for longer than ten years,” she says. “I try to give her back a little portion of what she gave to me. She would be proud to know what I do now; she was always proud of me and expected the most from me.” Disconnected Fragments, at the 24-hr. Tollbooth Gallery, is accompanied by music by Barefoot Barnacle, played by Jorge E. Meneses. Tollbooth Gallery, 11th & Broadway, through Feb. 29, 2012.

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