Sunday, January 17, 2010


I have been following a particular project of Vancouver artist Pamela Masik with interest for some time. 'The Forgotten' will finally be unveiled at the end of January. Consisting of 69 portaits measuring over 3 metres in height, each one depicting the women who have gone missing from the downtown eastside over the past ten years. The project has taken her over four years to complete, during this time she found herself becoming immersed in the project, suffered injury (tearing her left rotator cuff) and moved to a new 14,000 sq foot studio.

The huge canvasses incorporate personal information and materials, slashed with deep cuts and feature text, stitches and dense brushstrokes. Each portrait is a stark reminder that each of these missing women were individuals with experiences and stories; someone's mother, daughter, friend, sister or wife. It is too easy to dehumanize these women, to pigeonhole them as prostitutes, to dismiss them. Some had escaped from abusive relationships, some were drug addicts, some mentally challenged, some had families to support and few resources to do so other than prostitution. Masik immersed herself in their stories, building up details of the final sightings through their families, friends and social records.

To date 26 of the missing women have been identified as victims of Port Coquitlam pig farmer Robert Pickton. I was amazed how 69 women can go missing (presumably murdered) and outside of Canada, very little has been heard about it.

Some examples of the vanished women and the time it took for them to be noticed as missing. One of the "official" victims, 43-year-old Sherry Rail, would not be reported missing until three years after her January 1984 disappearance. Thirty-three-year-old Elaine Auerbach told friends she was moving to Seattle in March 1986 but she never arrived, reported missing in mid-April. Teressa Ann Williams, a 26-year-old Aboriginal, was last seen alive in July 1988, reported missing in March 1989. Fourteen months elapsed between the August 1989 disappearance of 40-year-old mental patient Ingrid Soet and the report to police on October 1, 1990. The first black victim, Kathleen Wattley, was 39 years old when she vanished in June 1992, reported missing on the 29th of that month.

Masik states "The intent of this work - not just creating the paintings, but the exhibition of the collection with performance and video/photography of the process - is to raise awareness of the social problem inherent within our society. I believe that because these women were of high risk groups and of marginalized communities, they were already forgotten - they did not exist in society's eyes.

In the future, I aim to sell this collection to a public institution and support a Social Arts Initiative and Rehabilitation Program for disadvantaged groups. It is our collective responsibility to empower individuals to heal and grow, and live a self-sustaining, healthy lifestyle. "

Last Image and Forgotten poster: Melissa Gidney

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