Haunting tribute to missing women

ANDREW HANON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:29 PM ET

Danielle Boudreau was still reeling, two days later.

The Edmonton woman was in Prince George for Thursday's opening of Room Full of Missing Women, an ambitious exhibition at the Two Rivers Art Gallery.

"It was awesome," she finally said, after several moments of stammering in search of words. "That doesn't even capture it. I can't find an appropriate way to describe it."

The show, by B.C. artist and social activist Betty Kovacic, depicts 50 women who disappeared off the streets of Vancouver's gritty Downtown Eastside.

One of them was Edmonton's Georgina Papin, whose accused killer, Robert Pickton, is on trial for first-degree murder for the deaths of six women. He will be tried for the deaths of 20 more women at a later date.

Kovacic painted each woman's portrait, gleaned from photos in the media and pictures obtained from families. A local musician also wrote a brief instrumental piece to accompany each portrait.

The show also included dozens of mannequins wrapped in black shrouds on which were written the hopes and dreams of local women.

The effect, said Boudreau, was "eerie, but it also gave each of these women a voice of sorts. They were no longer just nameless victims."

Kovacic said she was overwhelmed by the response.

The opening night attracted upwards of 450 people from all segments of the community and media.

"It was very, very good," she told Sun Media. "I was amazed. I'm not used to this kind of attention."

Boudreau, who for the last two years has organized a Valentine's Day march through the inner city in honour of women who've gone missing from Edmonton streets, was one of several local women invited to the opening.

So was Kathy King, acting head of the Prostitution Action and Awareness Foundation of Edmonton (PAAFE), which helps local women get out of the sex trade.

They're both on a committee working to bring Kovacic's show to Edmonton in 2008.

Kovacic said she began the project in 2002, shortly after the horror began unfolding on Pickton's Port Coquitlam, B.C. pig farm. Police were unearthing the remains of dozens of women who had led troubled lives and were all connected to the Downtown Eastside.

Many had drug problems or were in some way involved in prostitution.

But the issue of exploited and missing women, Kovacic said, "transcends the east side of Vancouver. It's an issue right across Canada."

Since the early 1980s, 28 women living high-risk lifestyles have been slain in the Edmonton area, according to PAAFE.


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