By Hannah Reimann
139 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10012
Between Houston and Prince Streets
Walking up Wooster Street a few weeks ago I happened to notice Love Me Hug Me, an Alzheimer’s-themed pop-up exhibition. I was my dad’s caregiver when he lost his memory and I’m aware that there are over five million people in the US with dementia. I had to go in. The exhibit begins in a small screening room with a loop of a short film, Wrinkles, then a room of spinning blue and yellow butterflies representing the thoughts of those with dementia flying out of their minds and poems about memory printed on the walls. There are six rooms of colorful symbolic imagery, each poetically inviting personal reflections, from falling Gingko leaves, a starry night with a sculpture of the earth to a crowd of identity-less people, how many dementia patients see groups of people they may have once known, now strangers to them. This is interspersed with opportunities to write answers to questions about the memory loss of loved ones on note cards. The message is that, even without memory, love lasts and it helps.
Wrinkles tells the story of a group of people living in a facility for elders, some of whom have Alzheimer’s. When Elaine Hong saw this film in May 2019, it moved her to create Love Me Hug Me, on exhibit until March 10.
Hong is a graduate student in finance at Columbia University. She created this exhibit, a tribute to her grandfather, after finding investors who were willing to help her rent the space in Soho. She networked with the Alzheimer’s Foundation and Caring Kind, two important organizations in the world of dementia.
Hong’s grandfather had Alzheimer’s and passed away two years ago in his native China. There are over 9.6 million people in China with dementia. Hong happened to see the Chinese reality TV show, Forget-Me-Not-Café, which features five early-stage dementia patients and three celebrities including Zhang Yuankun and Huang Bo, one of China’s biggest box office draws. They all get together to open a restaurant. In one scene, an old man writes to his best friend of 50 years, asking him to visit. Ten days later the same man doesn’t recognize this friend when he shows up. Gently prodded and reminded by his fellow cast members, he is brought to tears of recognition and hugs.
Hong learned about Wrinkles in online comments about the TV show. She incorporated a 15-minute excerpt of the 90-minute Spanish film, hoping to capture the attention of young people.
Every 66 seconds someone develops Alzheimer’s in the US. Hong’s aim is to inspire young people to spend time with their loved ones who have dementia and not wait until they cannot recognize them anymore. She encourages family members to be patient and to understand that the anger and restlessness that people with dementia demonstrate are part of the disease.
She plans to bring the pop up to China this summer. Of course, this will depend on how things go regarding the Coronavirus. In China, one person per family are allowed to go out every two days wearing antiviral masks to buy food and other supplies. Her parents, who live in Hangzhou, haven’t left home for a month. From afar, they are proud of her and her efforts. When her grandfather was alive he called everyone in the family, “Elaine.” This very moving exhibit is a testament to that, the love between them, palpable.