Fine Artist Lilian Broca
Who she is: Throughout her career, fine artist Lilian Broca has explored the nature of the human condition through symbols and metaphors.
What she does: Her Queen Esther Series deals with sacrifice, and she chose the biblical Queen Esther as a prototype for the courageous, selfless heroine who wins against all odds. Many years ago, the bright, seductive colors of Venetian glass and smalto—colored glass or enamel—used in creating mosaics beckoned her. “The coincidental fact that mosaics were first mentioned in the biblical Book of Esther (within the description of King Ahasuerus’ palace) contributed to my decision to further explore this unique art form,” she explains. “Executing the Esther Series in an ancient method with added contemporary symbolism seems most appropriate.”
Why she does it: “Throughout my career, I have explored relationships and the nature of the human condition through symbols and metaphors,” Broca says. “The Queen Esther Series deals with sacrifice, and I chose the biblical Queen Esther as a prototype for the courageous, selfless heroine who wins against all odds. The coincidental fact that mosaics were first mentioned in the biblical Book of Esther (within the description of King Ahasuerus’ palace) contributed to my decision to further explore this unique art form. Executing the Esther Series in an ancient method with added contemporary symbolism seems most appropriate.”
BRINGING THE BIBLE TO LIFE
Hope Katz Gibbs: What inspired you to create these gorgeous mosaics about Queen Esther?
Lilian Broca: After the monochromatic Lilith Series, which took me about six years to complete, I was starved for color. At the same time, I wanted to explore the themes of sacrifice and empowerment. By coincidence, exactly at that time I attended a lecture on ancient frescoes in the Levant. One of the slides showed the painted frieze of the ancient Dura Europos Synagogue in Syria.
It represented the story of Esther. I immediately was drawn to it and went home to read more on Esther. My research showed that the palace in which Esther lived with her Persian king had floors “encrusted with rubies and porphyry in pleasing designs.” This was a good omen. I knew I should return to creating mosaics, which I had started as a student but stopped after completing two murals at the age of 19.
Also, the secrecy and danger surrounding Esther at the court, and her isolation in the harem due to her important secret (her Jewishness), reminded me of my childhood in Communist Romania in the 1950s. We had that in common. Esther sacrificed big-time but also found empowerment within herself and ended up a leader of her people against all odds. That is powerful stuff!
Hope Katz Gibbs: What is your background? Where did you go to art school? And how, when, and why did you decide that art would be your life’s work?
Lilian Broca: I was born after the war in Bucharest, Romania. My family was able to leave the country with its terrible regime in the late 50s and eventually came to Canada, where, after high school, I enrolled in the Fine Arts Program of Concordia University in Montreal. After graduating with a BFA, I attended Pratt Institute in NY and earned an MFA degree.
My parents always said that even as a small child, I displayed an artistic inclination and considerable aptitude. I certainly don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making art or ever thought of a career other than in art.
Hope Katz Gibbs: In addition to Queen Esther and Lilith, another biblical woman has captured your imagination—Judith. You are now in the middle of a series of mosaics on her, and have finished mosaics of her praying in the desert, meeting Holofernes, seducing him, and eventually beheading him. Why Judith?
Lilian Broca: Throughout my career I dealt with social issues, particularly women’s issues. I used Lilith—in Jewish folklore, Adam’s first wife—as a metaphor for an independent, strong individual who recognized tyranny when Adam insisted on exercising control over her, and so she left him.
Esther is the metaphor for self-empowerment; Esther underwent a transformation that propelled her to become the leader of her people. Judith symbolizes courage and action in a patriarchal society; she was a heroine who saved her people single-handedly, wielding a sword that killed the enemy.
These three role models for contemporary women are based on biblical legends. I have been retelling their stories and giving them new lives through my art. Mosaics, by definition, are made up of small, individual bits, incorporated into larger artworks. In our 21st century, mosaic art resonates with a certain contemporary zeitgeist: As our world becomes more and more fractured, the archetypal story of individualism can be compared to fragmented elements being made whole again. We can’t heal the world until we heal ourselves.
Hope Katz Gibbs: Other historical figures have also been the subject of your artwork. And you have created a powerful Brides Series. Tell us more about what inspires these themes.
Lilian Broca: Each of these series explores situations strong, legendary women created for themselves in a patriarchal society. These unique individuals left their comfort zone, and despite huge obstacles, became winners and hence, role models.
The Brides Series was inspired by my mother’s courage on her wedding day, when, during a bomb raid alarm in January 1944 Bucharest, all dressed up in her white finery, my mother did not descend into the local bomb shelter. Instead, she chose to wait for the groom (my father) to arrive above ground in an unsafe place.
The rest of the brides are fashioned after fairytale heroines who as women, had “to wait for their prince to arrive” quietly and without rebelling against injustice and oppression— “Cinderella” —or they had to “tame” the wild beasts to get true love— “The Beauty and the Beast” —or do despicable things to return potential grooms back to their humanity— “The Princess and the Frog.” All these artworks give homage to women of power!
For additional information, and to see even more examples of her gorgeous work, visit www.LilianBroca.com.