Mamma Elia, a ninety-four-year-old great-grandmother, is the subject of “Mamma, in the Meantime” – a series in which she narrates her daily experiences of living with dementia through tableaux vivants directed by her son, Tony Luciani, an Ontario-based artist. Documented over the course of three years, this dialogue between mother and son depicts the passage of years and articulates a profound sense of loss. But it manages to remain funny, even upbeat. A variety of domestic props – from ovens and skateboards to easels and binoculars – come together in shots that exude warmth and evoke affection.
“Together, we have created a collection of images and anecdotes dealing with issues surrounding the loneliness of aging and the mourning of unrealized childhood dreams,” says Tony. “After WWII, when my mother was thirteen, she had an arranged marriage to a twenty-six-year-old stranger. My mother and her husband, Giovanni, eventually emigrated from Italy to Canada in the 1950s to work and raise their family.
“Mom lived in the same Toronto home she and my dad built in the early 1960s until 2014 when she was unable to look after herself any longer. Dad had died in 1998. When mom moved into my house, the collaboration of son/artist and aging mother/model progressed naturally. While my mother grieved her developing dementia and the resulting loss of independence, I became her full-time caregiver and began to include mom in my art practice.”
This project developed with a vision of collaboration, self-representation, and as a way to document the life of Mamma Elia, who has been struggling with confusion owing to her growing sense of lost time.
“Capturing these images became an investigation into the corporeality of time and place. Mom exists in the present moment in each photograph,” continues the photographer. “The stories and memories she relays through the images are then transformed into something tangible and meaningful. As mom’s memory declines and her thoughts become confused, the photographs develop a mechanism to anchor and validate her experiences. This lengthy three-year voyage of documentation, encompasses one person’s struggles and her caregiver’s way of alleviating some of the frustrations associated with her memory loss and aging.”
The initiative is a valuable act in a culture where almost all media focus is on the young and the energetic. The visual catalogue is also a playful answer to a sometimes sorrowful existence. It has garnered international attention both for its artistic merits and its social commentary.
“This series has touched, grabbed, pushed and pulled viewers, from the raw images of life lost, to the whimsical snapshots of childhood regained,” says Tony. “These photographs began as a personal documentation of my mother’s thoughts, feelings, and her fading recollections, but so many people have connected to their metaphorical meanings and of the symbolic imagery. Ultimately, this one person’s diary has been transcended to include everyone like her. Including mum in my art has benefited both of us greatly. The modelling gives her a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.”
Born in 1956 in Toronto, Tony Luciani attended Central Technical School, Sheridan Community College and the Ontario College of Art. He received his degree along with post graduate study in the off-campus program in Florence, Italy. The recipient of numerous grants and scholarships, Tony began to paint full time upon graduation and has subsequently exhibited constantly since 1978. In the 80s, he moved to rural Ontario and it is this change which has profoundly altered his choice of subject matter. Still a figure and still life painter, the landscape and small towns have become part of his life and as a result a major source of inspiration. In 2014, Tony Luciani began to include photography as a means of his creative expression.
In defining his work, Tony prefers to be placed in a tradition of realism which is interpretive as well as focused in observation. His influences include Antonio Lopez Garcia, Stanley Spencer and older figures like Jan van Eyck and Pieter Bruegel the Younger.
Images used with permission.