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Prince George artist paints B.C.’s murdered and missing women

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. (CP) — A Prince George artist has painted all of the missing and murdered women from the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side and the North’s so-called Highway of Tears.

Betty Kovacic, known as one of the province’s most socially conscious visual artists, is building an art show around the women who have been lost from mainstream society.

She has painted 50 portraits and is co-ordinating a piece of music for each, as well as corresponding selections of poetry and prose.

The portraits represent the 2002 list of those who were missing or were already confirmed to have died violently in British Columbia’s grimy backstreets and lonely highways.

Dozens of women, most of them prostitutes battling drug addictions, have disappeared from Vancouver’s drug-ridden Downtown Eastside over the last 25 years.

Robert William Pickton is charged with 26 counts of first-degree murder in some of the disappearances and will be tried later this month on six counts.

Kovacic is in the process of framing her works.

At least nine and perhaps as many as 30 women have also vanished or been killed while hitchhiking on Highway 16 in northern British Columbia.

Historically, says Kovacic, only the wealthy or important had their portraits.

“People who are poor or have little perceived social standing such has those involved in survival sex have little voice,” she says.

“Society has taken away their power and their voice. I am trying to instil in them the importance society has taken away.

“I grieved for each and every woman as I painted them, and not lightly either.”

Kovacic has not attempted to take the trouble from their eyes, the scars from their skin.

But she has figuratively moved them into better light, conceptually sat them for a proper portrait session even though she was only working from a photo or two of each victim. In some cases there are images in the background, in others a flourish of abstract colours.

Each one serves to present the woman in the portrait as a real person with a history, a pool of feelings, an active dream life instead of a dispassionate mug shot.

“One of the human traits we share is our dreams,” Kovacic said.

“A six-year-old girl does not walk up to her mom and say ‘mom, when I grow up I want to be addicted to drugs and sell my body for survival sex.”’

The Two Rivers Art Gallery in Prince George will debut the massive exhibit in September 2007, and there are hopes of a provincial tour after that.

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