Image of two people in a care home looking at a piece of text in a booklet together

Inspiring the artist

Written by Shazea Quraishi, Poet and Living Words artist

This account provides an insight into the artist’s perspective of what they have learned working with people living with a dementia.

For a long time, I had been looking for work that puts to use my skills as a writer and translator in a different way.

The tension between having time to write and earning a living continues to be a challenge after 20 years. I have increasingly looked for work that corresponds to my values and skills, and which enhances my artistic practice. For a writer, time is precious, and any work that takes time away from the practice of art must pay well enough to buy writing time. A Living Words artist residency with people experiencing dementias does just this, whilst also employing my skills as a writer and translator. In addition, it encourages me to reflect on my own work from a different perspective – an unexpected bonus.

I have come to understand why it must be an artist-led residency: because an artist - whether writer, actor, theatre-maker or singer – has a particular sensitivity to the weight of words and the possibilities they hold.

A writer understands that people sometimes speak in metaphors because these can more accurately express experience or feelings, and that ‘black’ is not necessarily a colour, and ‘she’ or ‘they’ can sometimes mean ‘I’. An actor is sensitive to how words are delivered, and understands the nuances of body language - and that the body can often express what words cannot.

Working over the past five years with Living Words has been a long and rich process of learning. The training requires time and space for reflection, for the artist to discover their way of working within a framework that is carefully structured, yet flexible enough to allow the individual to explore how best to work within it. The artist is supported throughout this process of enquiry which is intellectual, creative and deeply personal. The training is rigorous and engaged with issues of ethics and safeguarding; it is also nuanced and humane. My artistic practice is richer for what I have learnt and continue to learn about connection and relationships, listening and hearing. I am richer for it.

Our words hold our selves: with words we communicate our feelings and our experience of life, and to express this and to be understood… is this not the most basic human need?

What I have learned and continue to learn about words, and what it means to be human, has made me a better writer, and it has helped me to think about translation in a more nuanced way. I am very grateful for the opportunity to train and work as an artist with Living Words, and for the support that makes it possible. It has changed my life.

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This article is from the free online course:

Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

UCL (University College London)