‘The Forgotten’ Project Cancelled at the MOA

UBC’s Museum of Anthropology has cancelled “The Forgotten Project”, an exhibition of portraits painted by Vancouver artist Pamela Masik.  In case you’re not familar with this project, from the project’s website:

THE FORGOTTEN is a large-scale, powerful series of portraits of women’s faces. Sixty-nine portraits, to be precise – the number of women from Vancouver’s downtown eastside who have been missing for more than a decade. The majority of them have now been identified, yet the public’s knowledge of them has, for the most part, consisted of small police photos aligned in a grid on a poster, showing most of them as blurred and haggard representations at their worst.

There is a justifiably scathing review of the work at FUSE Magazine.  Here’s an excerpt:

The majority of the pictures on the website for the project feature the artist in front of her creations. In the image found next to her Artist’s Statement, Masik’s fashionable attire and flawless make-up stands in stark contrast to the blood-red paint that drips from her subject’s nose. In another shot from the Press Gallery, the artist’s sophisticated pose denotes a socio-economic privilege that disconnects her from the classed and racialized likeness found in the painting behind her[image link]. It is perhaps this disconnect that makes the paintings feel so insulting (jarring is too mild a word). There seems to be a lack of connection not only between the artist and the models, but between the artist and the social conditions that frame the painful circumstances she has set out to represent.

While the intentions of the artist may very well have been sincere , I doubt that she had given much thought to the political consequences of representing a marginalized people, especially when the artist representing -and profiting from – these women’s portraits is herself not part of the group.  However, the artist tries (desperately) to present herself as a sympathetic comrade of the missing women – from her project statement (link), “I lived on the DTES/Studio around the corner from my apartment” and, “How could I contribute to something so important to me as a woman, a mother?”, and from an article in Inside Vancouver (link), “When one woman is violated, all women are. It could have been me.”  She also included an additional portrait in the show – a self-portrait – to be shown along side the other works.  While the artist may prescribe to an outdated “we are all part of one sisterhood” take on feminism, she is hardly correct in this case – I have a very hard time believing that a wealthy, white, middle class artist with a 14,000 sqft studio has much in common with the experiences and history of the women she has represented in her paintings.

Something else also comes to mind: given the sordid history of representation of aboriginal peoples by museums, it is surprising that MOA would agree in the first place to hold this exhibition.  If the museum had gone through with the show, then the artist would stand to profit considerably off of the representation of marginalized peoples as disheveled, bloody, and beaten (project image gallery here).

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: davidsemeniuk.com