We had the good fortune of connecting with Lilian Broca and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lilian, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Throughout my 40 year career as a visual artist I took many risks while exploring social issues, particularly women issues. These range from the choice of portraying ancient stories to the style and the medium used in their execution. The four protagonists presented in my art of the last 25 years, Lilith, Queen Esther, Judith and now Mary Magdalene, symbolize courage and action in a patriarchal society. Each of these art series explores various situations the 4 strong legendary women created for themselves by leaving their sanctuary and comfort zone aiming to achieve extraordinary goals. Despite the huge obstacles for women present in their era, ultimately, all 4 flourished as winners. I have been retelling their stories in various mediums, entrusting them with new lives through my art. The artworks in these series give homage to women of power! In the early days of embarking on the above projects, I had my own obstacles to overcome. The early 1980s were not seen as favorable for figurative art work; moreover, women studies was a subject still in its infancy and as a visual art subject, my choice was not too popular. And yet, that’s precisely what I chose to do after several years of working in the abstract style without a raison d’etre. I knew the risk and the down side of such selections and still persisted with my choice of expression, come what may. Years of persistence and staying true to myself through thick and thin have paid off. My personal vision has been more valuable to me than the fickle trends in art that came and went over the years. In mid-career I chose Mosaic as my new medium of expression. Once again, departing from the norm, I picked an artistic medium usually relegated to craft not to Fine Art. But it resonated with me, it attracted me enough to learn the skills needed to create, to realize my inner vision. The risk this time was enormous as glass mosaics require the best material and long hours of meticulous work. The expense was considerable as well. I spent 7 years in my studio working towards a solo exhibition of 10 mosaics, my first in that medium. To my surprise and delight the entire series sold before the exhibition opening day. My present choice of Mary Magdalene as the protagonist of a series of 7 monumental mosaic panels is a new risk I will face when completed, as the subject is very controversial, particularly when my exploration of this complex biblical figure offers feminist points of view, suggesting a re-evaluation of an ancient story written by men with an agenda. I take the risk willingly as always; in my experience, risks are worth taking if the confidence of the worthiness of such an endeavor exists and is embraced.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there a person, group, organization, book, etc that you want to dedicate your shoutout to? Who else deserves a little credit and recognition in your story?
As a visual artist living in the 21st c. when no patrons of the art exist as they did in 15, 16, and 17th c. (be they the church or private collectors and art lovers such as the Medici family), I have been blessed with a life partner who has been the most supportive and encouraging friend I could ever imagine or need. David Goodman is a lover of all the Arts, his understanding and caring throughout my artistic career have been enormous and his relentless backing, promoting, urging and morale boosting for my advancement in the art world (a difficult and unappealing task for an artist) added to all the successes I have had in my career. In addition, he consoled or cheered me whenever such occasions arose, always with unequivocal love, sympathy and a strong belief in my life dedication to the arts. With immense gratitude I dedicate this interview to my beloved David Goodman. There are two additional figures who must be mentioned as mentors who, although not related to me have been instrumental in my artistic progress with exceptional inspiration and endorsement; Dr. Yosef Wosk, Former professor of humanities and director of interdisciplinary programs at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University (Canada), rabbi and scholar, widely honored for his many contributions to education, the arts, heritage preservation, philanthropy, and religion. Yosef has been a friend whose knowledge of biblical, mythological and arcane subjects have added to my love for these branches of study. He was a contributor to the publications of both Esther and Judith books, 2011 and 2015 respectively. His stories and ideas have been a huge inspiration and I am so proud that many of my artworks are part of his vast art collection. Also, Dr. Angela Clarke, Director and Museum Curator of Il Museo at the Italian Cultural Centre in Vancouver, a good friend whose academic specialty includes women, religion and decorative art of the Italian Renaissance c. 1500-1550. Angela has authored and co-authored two art-oriented books and penned many essays and articles for Art Publications. Her intuitive capacity of understanding and recognizing an artist’s intent, meaning and essence in their artworks with a critical eye is astounding. Angela has been a friend and mentor for several years, her accurate and meaningful writings on my art being a great factor in the advancement of my career.
Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
MY ART: Throughout my artistic career, I have explored human relationships and the nature of the human condition. What leads an artist to gravitate to a particular image and use a particular medium remains a mysterious, subtle and ongoing revelation to me. Early in my career, using the symbolism of fairy tales, marriage and everyday objects such as purses, I have proposed questions about the relevance of fairy tales’ allegorical role models for today’s youth, raised issues respecting the exalted position of brides on their wedding day, and offered new and original contexts for the personal belongings in women’s handbags. Focusing on societal issues, especially those involving women and their plight in historical times I approached mythological and biblical stories of courageous females who, despite overwhelming odds had prevailed through sheer courage and wise resolve. These ancient stories resonated with me enough to convince me to employ their protagonists as role models relevant to our contemporary society and through them shedding light on today’s concerns. Several series of works based on biblical stories have emerged: early on in my career, it was Lilith, a legendary figure who was created by God at the same time as Adam, well before the creation of Eve. For the Lilith Series I drew upon the wisdom of the ancient women within ourselves, the rich archetypes and valuable traditions in order to challenge arena and values that need to be questioned and altered. From the beginning of her creation, Lilith perceived herself equal to Adam – equal to man. As Adam insisted on his supremacy, Lilith adamantly refused. Determined to retain her independence and dignity, she chose loneliness over subservience. This first woman, was the embodiment of human struggle for equality, independence. The creation of the second woman, Eve, was predetermined as subservient to man. Although considered a sinner, Eve was passive and loyal, a domestic and nurturing creature without ambition. Through my body of work that became the Lilith Series, I interpreted the protagonist as the messenger of and the hope for human courage and egalitarianism, not solely for women but for all humanity; moreover, I demonstrated the need to reassess this legendary figure, advocating that both Lilith and Eve’s attributes be included in our notion of a successful, fulfilled twenty-first century woman. After eight years of working on the lengthy Lilith drawings and painting series, I turned my attention to Queen Esther, the biblical hero who became a great leader of her people. According to ancient Persian folk tales as well as the Bible, this event transpired in the fifth century BCE in ancient Persia. The story of the Jewish Queen Esther, filled with drama and intrigue, has long captivated writers as well visual artists and inspired them to create works based on its powerful narrative. The biblical Book of Esther addresses the themes of sacrifice and female empowerment, two themes that particularly intrigue me. The story thus naturally led me to portray the biblical queen as a prototype for the courageous, selfless heroine who wins against all odds. After a sudden and dramatic transformation in character, at a time of crisis, Esther fulfilled her destiny to become a leader with intelligence, persistence and dedication. Today, we can view her as a role model and, as such, she contributes to the status of women in all societies. Having been born in Bucharest Romania, a country that boasts post-Byzantine and Orthodox Romanian traditions both, in my childhood, I was exposed to spectacular biblical images and styles which later on influenced me in my work. At this time, in mid-career I decided to learn the art of mosaic in order to better express myself in my chosen new direction. I switched mediums and purchased the glass and tools necessary for mosaic production. Therefore, the Queen Esther Series, in the Byzantine manner takes a narrative direction and features scenes pivotal to the story and immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with the biblical Book of Esther. Similar also to Byzantine icons and religious scenes, the mosaic series includes numerous symbols, flat areas covered with gold leaf and gold glass, stylized figures and frontal formal poses. Once immersed in mosaic studies I realized that all monumental mosaics in ancient times that were unearthed, focused on the heroic deeds of men. Hardly any women in important positions were immortalized in mosaics; most females were relegated to Goddess status, outside the earthly sphere. I then decided to represent my female heroes in monumental sizes that emphasize their importance in the manner of their masculine counterparts, hundreds of years ago. This demanded a colossal effort, time and budget, as mosaic opaque glass called smalto glass is very expensive. The Queen Esther Series took me 7 years to complete. I worked in a vacuum as I never took classes or workshops in this field. It was trial and error all the way. Unlike any other artistic discipline, the making of glass mosaics is governed by the will of the medium. The material itself possesses an integrity that can never be subdued, whereas with oil paints, acrylics, pencils, charcoal and conte – all obey the will of the artist. The artist need only think and instruct the hand to achieve the expected result. Not so with glass and mosaic: the material dictates the outcome and must be obeyed. One needs to learn how to “think mosaic” very quickly. The transition to mosaic as a medium has not been easy or painless; aside from the necessary skill required to fabricate the images I painted first, the shift in mind-set when it came to create the sketches was also a challenge. Patience is also a must-have in this artistic discipline. Yet, despite the limitations and hardship, an artist can still express themselves in glass or stone, in abstract or figurative form, and create works of contemporary meaning and impact. For me the result was wonderful, not only was I happy with the entire series but it was a real coup financially, as the entire series was exhibited and then purchased by a Canadian art collector. It also let to the publication of the book “The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca” with an introduction by American artist Judy Chicago. The book was very well received and reviewed. This gave me the courage and the funds to continue creating in this beautiful medium. Two more series on Biblical figures followed Esther: Judith and presently, Mary Magdalene. The Judith series consists of 7 monumental mosaics on 9 panels. Both Esther and Judith series should be evaluated collectively as they are a study in contrasts; Esther as a stereotypical woman in a male dominated society who works within the patriarchal system and Judith as a warrior who wields the sword herself —a sword that belongs, not coincidentally, to a man. Although Esther and Judith are situated at opposite ends of the personality spectrum they both utilize unique and unofficial means to exert influence and modes of power which are deeply underestimated in a masculine militaristic society. The story concentrated on the community survival as well as the female survival in a man’s world. Judith’s plight encourages all women universally to believe in their own strength, even in present day patriarchal societies where women are usually submissive and dominated by men; I hope it reminds them that they too, possess the potential of the assertive Judith. For the Judith mosaics I chose the Neo-Baroque style, a style more fitting for an energetic, strong and hands-on woman. The series required outside help in fabrication as the sizes were very large and spending 10 years alone in my studio was not an option. I collaborated with a mosaic studio in Montreal, a very satisfactory arrangement which saved me a few years of hard work. The Judith mosaic cycle was exhibited as a travelling solo exhibition across Canada and in the United States; a substantial book/catalogue published by the museum accompanied the exhibitions. Today I am working on the notorious and much maligned figure of Mary Magdalene, herself a female hero in my eyes. As a woman living in a patriarchal society without a husband, the courageous Magdalene had left her family, her sanctuary – home, in order to follow a single man without a fixed address, without a regular job, an intrepid traveler who preached a new approach to a peaceful and unbiased existence where love is a God-given power needed to repair the injustice in the world. Mary Magdalene, the loyal Apostle, dedicated her life to Jesus’ teachings which she understood better than any of His male disciples. My research on her convinced me that the countless and confused interpretations of her story are indicative of the importance of this biblical figure. Getting through a multitude of less well-known or understood ancient texts that offer divergent perspectives on Mary Magdalene’s significance and her position in the life of Jesus, prompted me in including various ancient text in each panel. This cycle is in progress, a couple of years away from completion and that includes collaboration in their fabrication.
WHAT SETS ME APART: As an artist whose career spans 4 decades, the lack of placing importance on the “isms” that come and go, or, better said, the transitory and endless art trends, that, together with my dedication to and focus on one subject, women status and equality of gender, have set me apart from the majority of other artists.
OVERCOMING CHALLENGES: Admittedly, I am not always elated about the long hours required and the difficulty in selling such huge and expensive mosaics, but the satisfaction in knowing that I am able to express what I think and feel is more than a fair compensation; it is a reward worth obtaining at all cost. Public recognition came very slowly for me. My generation who attended art school (BFA Concordia 1968) (MFA Pratt Institute 1971) was not encouraged let alone taught self-marketing, rather, we ignorantly believed that we will be “discovered” as great artists one day…. Luck was and still is a major factor in public recognition.
WHAT I AM MOST PROUD OF: I fought many challenges over the years and always with hard work and belief in myself, the latter reinforced continuously by my life partner and beloved husband, David Goodman. As an artist I have also received numerous awards in North America Europe and the Levant, including the Lorenzo il Medici gold medal for mosaics at the 2003 Florence Biennale. It was a great day when my accomplishments were crowned with a documentary on my art and life. The documentary called “Return to Byzantium: The Art and Life of Lilian Broca”, a 50-minute film produced by Canadian Sonia Productions in cooperation with Romanian National Television, was released in February 2012, premiered in Ottawa and aired on CBC TV across Canada after winning “the Best Documentary” award at the San Pedro International Film Festival in LA.
LESSONS LEARNED: It’s unlikely that one day someone will come and discover you in your studio even if you are deserving of such a recognition. A lot of effort in submitting work to various exhibition venues and self-marketing is de rigueur! Also, staying true to oneself despite public pressure to conform to existing trends. Finally, persistence wins in the long run is the ultimate lesson I learned over the years.
WHAT I WISH THE WORLD TO KNOW ABOUT ME: My hope was and still is that in the future my work will make a difference in the lives of women internationally. If the world were to know my story, it is the motto “never give up, keep believing in yourself”.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
I live and work in Vancouver, British Columbia, a city located on the West Coast of Canada. Vancouver is one of the most picturesque cities in the world. The combination of high mountains on the Northern part of the city and the Pacific Ocean beaches along the West side of the city give it great views all year round. Unlike the rest of Canada, the weather here is mild in the winter and pleasurably warm in the summer. Due to mild temperatures in the winter months and living at the edge of a rain forest, it rains most of the time with grey clouds obscuring the sun. Many people find it depressing during those winter months but I am lucky in that respect and find great solace in the greenery present 12 months of the year. Whenever friends from afar visit us, we know that they will find the Vancouver scenery, the clean and sandy beaches, the flora in the numerous parks, in particular Stanley Park, the suspension bridges on the North Shore canyons, Chinatown, the markets, particularly the one on Granville Island and the green and scent filled trails in the woods scattered throughout the city, as main attractions. Although Vancouver boasts an opera, several theatres, a major Art Gallery and two museums, in these days of COVID 19 none of them is open to the public. Due to the diversity of ethnicities in our city, the restaurant scene offers a rich variety in culinary delights and the numerous outdoor cafes and eateries are usually packed. People stroll on tree lined streets and downtown the evenings are lively most of the year. However, during this Pandemic, we find a limited choice of restaurants with large outdoor spaces; therefore, to give names and addresses would not be fair, as the economy is suffering to such an extent that some of them are closing down indefinitely. The summer of 2020 is hardly an exciting time for tourists and I truly hope the future will bring back the charm and excitement our city has been deservedly proud of.
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David Goodman and Lilian Broca