Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lori Culbert

Artist stirs emotions with portrait project

Pamela Masik unveils first of 69 portraits of missing women from Downtown Eastside, creates art program in area

Pamela Masik unviels the first of 69 massive portraits of missing women in Vancouver. This one is Mona Wilson. PHOTO: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun.
PHOTO: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun
Pamela Masik unviels the first of 69 massive portraits of missing women in Vancouver. This one is Mona Wilson.

VANCOUVER — A Vancouver artist painting massive portraits of women who vanished from the Downtown Eastside is nearly finished the four-year-long project, and announced Tuesday she plans to create an art program for women at the Union Gospel Mission.

The first of 69 portraits by artist Pamela Masik was unveiled Tuesday at a press conference in Gastown, revealing a starkly life-like image of Mona Wilson, who disappeared in November 2001 at the age of 26.

Wilson's remains were later found on the Port Coquitlam farm of Robert (Willie) Pickton, who has been convicted in her murder.

Below Wilson's piercing dark eyes and high cheek bones are slash marks in the canvas and newspaper articles woven into the texture of the 2.4-metre wide and three-metre tall (eight-by-10 feet) artwork.

The knife wounds represent the fate Wilson met at the hands of her killer, Masik said; the newspaper clippings indicate her story became a very public one, only after society collectively shrugged when the women first started disappearing.

"They were real people, just like you and me. It's a tragedy that so many women can go missing and be murdered," Masik said. "Everyone deserves a dignified life."

The Vancouver Sun first chronicled Masik's "Forgotten Faces" project when she started it in 2006. She has completed 59 of the portraits, and said she is finalizing plans for all 69 to be displayed "at a major public institution," likely in 2011.

In the meantime, Masik is donating proceeds from her landscape paintings to fund a new arts program for women who rely on the services at the Union Gospel Mission in the Downtown Eastside.

UGM Rev. Bruce Curtiss hopes the art classes will be a healing influence.

"It will help these women on their journey, who were friends — who literally knew these [missing] women before they were taken," he said.

Also at the unveiling Tuesday was Susie Kinshella of Chilliwack, the sister of missing woman Wendy Crawford. She said she visited Masik's downtown studio last month to see the "amazing" portrait of her sister.

"It was the innocence Pamela captured that she gave back to my sister, that she gave back to me," Kinshella said. "It put sunshine on the rain from [Pickton's 2007] trial. … This is just the greatest gift."

The police list of missing women contained 69 names a few years ago, but now sits at 64 after the whereabouts of five women were found.

Pickton was convicted of killing six of the missing women and was charged with the first-degree murder of 20 more, including Crawford.

The B.C. Court of Appeal will rule Thursday on Pickton's appeal of his conviction.

© The Vancouver Sun

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Created: June 26, 2009
Last modified: July 19, 2009
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