Ageism. When Colleen Kemp, the director of social day programs at the Jewish Council
for the Aging, first heard the word, she shared it with some of the seniors of the Gorlitz Kensington Club, which serves people in the early stages of diagnosed memory loss.
“They were shocked. It was like, ‘That is exactly what we face,’” Kemp said. “We looked it up in the dictionary and read the definition out loud. We talked about the negative words and ideas people have about aging.”
Ageism became the theme for the club’s art piece on display at the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville. The bright, multicolored piece is part of the center’s Under One Roof: Raise Your Voice exhibit, which is up until Nov. 10.
Kemp thought the club’s art piece would be a good way to bring awareness of ageism to others.
The faces of two club members, Roberta and George, are painted on the canvas, with “I have freedom,” “I am valued,” and “I have many memories,” coming from their mouths like word bubbles. The idea behind the art exhibit is to let various groups, like victims of domestic violence, express themselves.
Kemp asked the Kensington Club seniors, all of whom are experiencing memory loss, about the difficulties surrounding aging.
“They talked about what it was like to get old, and some of the challenges that you face. And we thought that [conversation] was a great thing,” she said. “We also discussed how it’s important to let people know the positive things about aging.”
Over three sessions, the seniors brainstormed, planned and put the piece together. They sat around a table, each using water colors to paint an abstract background, with no other direction. They were just to paint what felt right.
In the Bender JCC’s Goldman Art Gallery, they talked about what they wanted people to know about their feelings, how just because they weren’t working didn’t mean they were worthless, how there are good things about getting older and about how they felt about their place in society.
“There are multiple colors because as we age, things change,” Don H., one of the 10 people who had worked on the project said. The JCA asked that the members’ full names not be used. “It’s a colorful picture also.”
Don pointed out some of the painting he did on the canvas, and talked about the aging process. Roberta, who had posed for the project, didn’t remember much about it. Kemp said since the project had been completed three weeks ago, many of the members don’t remember it. Roberta said she didn’t recognize her own face in the painting.
“[That] could be me,” she said. “I think [the painting] is all fine.”
Don said it was important to have the picture on display so that other people could understand the struggles they were going through. Even if they do not remember much about it.
“Everybody should respect older people [and] their experiences,” Don said. “You should be proud of your age. As everyone says, it’s a number anyway.”