All-College Hour speaker recalls missing Canadian women through paintings

This week’s All-College Hour speaker series featured feminist painter Ilene Slova on Wenesday Feb. 4. She is well-known for creating the Missing Women Project, a collection of conceptual portraits of missing females from Ontario, Canada. Several prominent news sources have featured Sova’s work, including a TEDxWomen event and Canadian morning talk show Canada AM. Her portraits have also been showcased in the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art and extensive solo and group exhibitions. She has most recently been asked by the Canadian Parliament to showcase her work in the upcoming National Forum on Feminism in Ottawa, Canada.

Sova explained that her primary goal is to shed light on violence against women, especially those who are omitted from the Database of Missing Women for systemically racist reasons. Sova chose women who disappeared between 1970 and 2000 to focus on.

“I wanted to paint a diverse group of subjects to show that domestic violence affects all races, classes and backgrounds,” Sova said.

She explained the backstories of a few of the women who went missing, including Lisa Mass, who was pregnant when she went missing after a big party in the woods. Mass left the party with a male companion to retrieve her car and hasn’t been seen since. Her car was found a few days after her disappearance.

Sova also spoke about the case of Melanie Ethier, an eleventh grader who went to a high school party and disappeared suddenly during her five-minute walk home.

In addition to the portraits of the missing women, Sova painted women who she was close to as well. “There were all these women around me suffering from emotional and domestic violence,” she said. “I was interested in painting things that they experienced.”

She also stressed the fact that domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women in both Canada and the United States.

“We perpetuate this myth that danger will come in the form of the boogeyman in an alley who will come out of nowhere,” Sova said. “This is bad for our youth because it’s extremely rare. You usually know the person who attacks you. If we taught the red flags for an abusive relationship starting in high school health curriculum, we can protect young women before it’s too late.”

Sova was motivated to start this project during graduate school at the University of Windsor. She said that she enjoyed making art, but had trouble finding a type of art that engaged her.

“I was passionate about equity and social issues,” Sova said. “I was so engaged with feminism. So I decided to combine my interests of painting and feminism together and see what happened.”

Sova explained that events that happened close to home were also inspiration for this project. “I had two close girlfriends who went through violent relationships,” Sova said. “I expressed how I felt through these paintings.”

While living with five women, Sova noticed that there was a lot of turmoil in relationships.

“Three of my roommates were sexually assaulted and two were in violent relationships,” she said. Sova stressed that she does not want to “sensationalize” violence with the paintings, but rather “address the violence, but monumentalize these women in a beautiful way... For me, art is most powerful as a vehicle of initiating social change.”

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