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Brains set to take over Toronto streets

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Michelle Vella with 'Iris Apfel'.

The fourth annual Yogen Früz Brain Project is bringing together some 50 Canadian and international artists to transform blank models of the human brain into one-of-a-kind works of art. Its founders hope that the artwork will spark conversations with the public about dementia, in an effort to raise $1 million for brain health and research at Baycrest Health Sciences, a world leader in aging and brain health research.

Erica and Noah Godfrey are the Brain Project’s honorary co-chairs. “This is Erica’s baby. It has gone above and beyond what she and we ever dreamed of, raising more than $3 million since inception,” said Noah Godfrey. “Brain health and Alzheimer’s touched our family, and that’s part of the message – it touches everybody’s family. We all have a brain. It ages. There are things that we can do today and things our kids can do to make sure that their brain is working optimally as they age.”

According to the World Health Organization, there are around 50 million people living with dementia worldwide, and nearly 10 million new cases each year. While rare, younger people can get dementia, as well. According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, young-onset dementia accounts for two to eight per cent of all dementia cases. Sixteen thousand Canadians under the age of 65 are living with young-onset dementia.

“If we can delay the onset of dementia by five years, we could reduce its prevalence in the population by about one-third – that is a significant number,” said Josh Cooper, the president and CEO of the Baycrest Foundation.

READ: BRAIN HEALTH FORUM COMING TO TORONTO

At a recent media launch, The CJN spoke with some of the artists and had a sneak peek at the 50 brains that are set to grace city streets in the Greater Toronto Area on July 2.

Every brain sculpture tells a personal story. Artist Orit Fuchs, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, is a storyteller with a deep appetite for creative self-expression. “This project was very personal,” said Fuchs. “My parents, in their last years, suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s, so it was familiar to me – and very painful.”

Orit Fuchs’ The Brain Eater

Fuchs’ brain sculpture, called The Brain Eater, resembles the classic video game Pac-Man. “I visualized the cells in the brain (as) small dots, and the Pac-Man (the disease) eating them up slowly.

I chose to leave some of the paths without dots because the Pac-Man already ate them – they are already lost,” explained Fuchs.

Artist Gina Godfrey is a prolific abstract and portrait artist, printmaker and curator who previously created three brains for the project. At this year’s exhibition, her brain, titled Deep Thoughts, is made with mixed-media jewels and paint. “Every brain in the world has some deep thoughts,” said Godfrey. “My piece is very personal, because it’s my brain.”

Godfrey describes the piece as follows: “Deep thoughts travel through my brain very colourfully from the little brilliantly jewelled person in the stem … reaching out, moving with a flow of ideas.… The pastel rainbow of colours have movement, like a flashing sign. The embellished gold jewels in the stem also represent a person who is vibrant and constantly thinking.”

Gina Godfrey with her ‘Deep Thoughts’ brain.

Dani Fine Lines is an art program for youth and adults with developmental brain disabilities. Its piece, Superhero in the Mirror, tells the story of a fascination of superhero movies.

“Just like the superheroes, the artists’ paths in life are paved with attempts to show people around them glimpses of what they see in themselves – powerful personalities and many abilities, despite what might meet the eye,” said Anna Gruzman, Dani’s recreational programs manager. “Putting mirrors on the superheroes kind of forces the person who looks into the mirror to see themselves as powerful and beautiful and capable.”

Michelle Vella is a portrait artist who specializes in drawing celebrities with large, wide-open eyes. “The inspiration behind my brain design was fashion icon Iris Apfel. She is a vibrant 97-year-old known for her big jewelry, big baubles and bangles, and her signature black-rimmed eyeglasses. Iris is an excellent representation of brain wellness and what we all hope to have well into our 90s,” said Vella.

The artwork will be on display from July 2 to August 31 at various locations in Toronto, including Nathan Phillips Square, the Distillery District, Brookfield Place and Union Station.

 

To learn more about the Brain Project, visit brainproject.ca.

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