If you’re in Vancouver you may already be familiar with the portraiture of Pamela Masik. Inspired by the women who have famously gone missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Masik painted 69 large scale portraits for a series called “The Forgotten” Project. One portrait was painted for each of the women who went missing from the neighbourhood between 1978 and the early 2000s.
Look at me, they scream, and know that I was here. And that I mattered, as every individual does.
Masik’s naming of “The Forgotten” was aptly chosen to describe society’s apathy towards these marginalized women.
The large scale paintings speak to the reality of our human ability to look away and self preserve. Masik, who lived in the Downtown East Side during the time women were going missing, experienced the maginalization of both the area itself and its people. According to her artist statement some collectors wouldn’t visit her studio because of its address and asked if she had “finished painting the whores yet.”
While the stories of the missing women were sensationalized by the media and the public blamed the serial killer Robert Pickton, Masik created portraiture of the women in an attempt to bring to light deeper issues of marginalization.
Vancouver Magazine, in their article about Masik’s work published early this year, asked Masik if she ever considered painting Robert Pickton, the serial killer charged with 20 of the deaths of the missing woman. “He’s already a kind of celebrity,” Masik is quoted saying, “A lot of people want to point the finger at Pickton and say he was the reason this happened. But these women were forgotten before they went missing.”
Vancouver Magazine further expresses the magnitude of Masik’s work:
Visitors often break down at Masik’s studio, perhaps because the work, displayed in a city overrun by Olympic boosterism, is unblinkingly insistent: this, too, happened here. One meaning of “to remember” is to reconstitute that which has been dismembered. Many of Masik’s subjects had limbs severed from their bodies. The attempt to put them back together with paint, to make them whole again, is both wrenching and heroic.
And maybe attitudes are changing. When sex-trade worker Lisa Francis went missing recently, the police didn’t ignore it; they put up a billboard that shows the woman’s face, three metres tall.
The portraits continue to move people and trigger thought on issues of equality, support, marginalization, and the bravery of women explored through Masik’s paintings.
(Photo credit: Liza J. Lee.)