Pamela Masik’s 69 portraits of missing and murdered women, scheduled to be shown at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver in February, will not be exhibited, the museum announced Wednesday. Measuring eight feet by ten feet, the paintings depict the faces of women who have gone missing on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, at least six of whom are now known to have been slain by serial killer Robert Pickton. (Pickton was convicted in 2007 on six counts of second-degree murder; he reportedly confessed to an undercover police officer that he killed 49 women during the 20 years he was active.) In a statement partially reproduced at The Globe and Mail’s website, museum director Anthony Shelton discussed the “very difficult decision” to cancel the exhibition. “There are too many unresolved issues surrounding [the exhibition],” the statement read, “and serious concerns have been raised by some individuals and groups that by showing the paintings, we might cause further distress to the families and friends of the missing and murdered women, as well as to others in the communities most affected by the issues we sought to address.”
The same Globe and Mail article quotes an interview with Masik herself: “I know that there were some, but I saw my role as an artist was to really acknowledge and bear witness to what went on.”
Coverage on The Province’s website focused on the role First Nations groups played in preventing the show, pointing out that the murdered and missing women are estimated to be 30 to 50 percent Native. Some families of the victims were also upset that images of their loved ones were to be shown without their consent. In an e-mail to Shelton, Corinthia Kelly, an organizer of the annual Women’s Memorial March in the Downtown Eastside, wrote that “‘The Forgotten’ does nothing to stop the violence against women in this community. It exoticizes them and turns them into commodities to promote the ‘Masik brand.’ It is very offensive to many of these families (of missing and murdered women) that the image of their beloved daughters, mothers, sisters and aunties has been stolen and used by this ambitious artist to further her own career.”
Masik says she intends to try to exhibit the series somewhere else, perhaps Ottawa.
Artist’s website: www.masik.ca