Lilian Broca

Lilian Broca was born in Bucharest, Romania. In 1962, the Broca family immigrated to Montreal, Canada. There, she attended and graduated from Northmount High School in 1964. Broca began drawing and painting at an early age, winning several artistic awards before enrolling in the BFA program at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University). She graduated with honors in 1968 and became a Canadian citizen in 1967.

In 1969, Broca received a Bourse de Perfectionnement from the Quebec Government to study abroad. She enrolled in the Graduate Fine Arts program at Pratt Institute in New York City, graduating with an MFA (honors) in 1971. That same year, she married David Goodman in Montreal, and together they relocated to Vancouver, BC.

In 2000, Broca collaborated with Canadian author/poet Joy Kogawa on the book ‘A Song of Lilith’, based on the legend of Lilith, an ancient Hebrew mythological figure. Kogawa’s text and Broca’s images were incorporated into a concert/performance directed by Kristine Bogyo with classical composer Larysa Kuzmenko, writer Joy Kogawa, actor Moira Wylie, and five classical music performers. The premiere of the concert opened in Toronto at the St. Lawrence Centre for The Arts in September 2000 and was performed in various cities across Canada the following year.

Broca was the subject of the documentary film ‘Return to Byzantium: The Art and Life of Lilian Broca’, which premiered in Canada at The National Library and Archives in Ottawa in 2012. Directed and produced by Adelina Suvagau, the Canadian/Romanian co-production spanned over a five-year period. The documentary was selected for participation in five international film festivals in the US and Canada, including the San Pedro International Film Festival, where it won the Best Documentary Award in 2012. The film was acquired by CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) television network and first aired on July 20, 2013.

Broca’s early works were representational. In the 1970s, she experimented with various abstract styles, held exhibitions in Vancouver, and received several commissions from the city of Vancouver and Kwantlen College for large painted murals. At the beginning of the 1980s, she began a more realistic phase. Although representational art was not in vogue at the time, Broca persisted, and her works, which dealt with human relationships, were exhibited across Canada, including in Regina.

In the 1990s, Broca’s work showed more emphasis on social issues, particularly women’s issues. The Vancouver Art Gallery purchased Broca’s work, and then-director Brooks Joyner commented: “Lilian Broca is an accomplished artist, a superb draughtsman, who knows about art history. A committed artist producing a significant body of work….She is discovering things in our present and past that are keys to understanding heroics in life.” At the end of that decade, a solo exhibition was held at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington.

In 2002, Broca changed her medium from paint and canvas to glass mosaics. She began to create large-scale mosaics using historical iconography and materials such as Byzantine smalti, gold smalti, and millefiori on honeycomb aluminum panels. She took inspiration from the courageous acts of biblical women. A book about her work, ‘The Hidden and the Revealed: The Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca’, by Sheila D. Campbell, Yosef Wosk, Gareth Sirotnik, and Broca, was published in 2011. The book describes how her art gives “voice, form, and personality” to these women and their stories.

Broca’s work has been recognized with several awards. In 2012, the documentary ‘Return to Byzantium: The Art and Life of Lilian Broca’ won the Best Documentary Award at the San Pedro International Film Festival in LA, CA. In 2016, her mosaic “Judith’s Revenge” received the Juror’s Choice Award at the Women’s Museum of California in San Diego, CA. More recently, in 2021, her mosaic “Judith Displaying her Trophy” was awarded The Best Wall-Hanging Mosaic at the show ‘Roots’ at The Art Gallery of Alberta.

Broca’s work has been extensively covered in various publications. In 2023, her work was featured in ‘S/HE: An International Journal of Goddess Studies’ (Volume 2 Number 2), with an article by Mary Ann Beavis titled “From Lilith to Mary Magdalene: The Divine Feminine in the Art of Lilian Broca.” In 2022, her mosaics were highlighted in several articles, including in ‘The Globe and Mail’, ‘Jewish Independent’, ‘Il Marco Polo’, ‘The Georgia Straight’, and ‘La Source’. Previous years saw features in publications such as the ‘Ormsby Review’, the ‘Journal of Mosaic Research’, ‘Mosaique Magazine’, ‘Critical Read’, and ‘Groutline Magazine’.

Soignée: Can you tell us about your early life and how you came to Canada?
I was born after WWII 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.

Soignée: When did you first realize you had a talent for art?
My parents always said that even as a small child I displayed an artistic inclination and considerable aptitude in that area. I certainly don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making art nor ever thinking of a career other than in Art.

Soignée: Your art often deals with social issues, especially those concerning women. Can you elaborate on this focus?
Throughout my long career, I have dealt with social issues, particularly women’s issues. The last four series executed are on Biblical stories of extraordinary women. Lilith is employed 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; she underwent a transformation that propelled her to become the leader of her people. Judith symbolizes courage and action in a patriarchal society; she is a heroine who saves her people single-handedly, wielding a sword that killed the enemy.

Mary Magdalene qualifies for the courageous woman who left her sanctuary, her family home, to follow a single man without a fixed address or a permanent job, traveling the country accompanied by 12 other men, teaching God’s words. Mary Magdalene joined Jesus and followed Him despite being a single female living in a patriarchal society when women were, in general terms, treated as lesser mortals with few of the privileges bestowed on men. By leaving behind her family and her comfort zone, Mary Magdalene showed a sense of independence and self-assurance rarely found in women of her time.

Soignée: What do you hope to achieve through your depiction of these Biblical women?
Each of these series explores various situations strong Biblical women created for themselves in a patriarchal society. These unique individuals, despite huge obstacles, become winners and hence, role models. Through the retelling of their stories, I’ve been giving them new lives through personal interpretation in my artworks. There is no right or wrong in interpreting a story. The end result is based on how convincing one is and how one builds their argument. The same is true in art where there is always the subjective perspective and the cultural milieu that an artist has to consider.

Soignée: How have others perceived your work, especially in the context of art history and literature?
As Dr. Angela Clarke, the director of Il Museo at the Italian Cultural Centre in Vancouver, wrote in her essay Breaking Down Barriers: Antiquity and Post Modernity: “In art history and literature discourse, the work of women artists and women’s stories are always associated with the intimate and the small, as if they dare not take up valuable space and time. Lilian Broca expressly desires that these stories of women should take up space, time, and even more room should be made for female achievement in the future. By telling these stories of ancient heroic women in monumental media, she demands space for diversity of opinion. Most importantly, she wants to construct a history that reveals to future generations that the voice and face of history is not entirely a masculine one, even in the militarized world of antiquity.”

Soignée: How does symbolism play a role in your work?
Symbolism has been my communicating method throughout my career. In art, a shift in perspective can be a powerful tool for examining and conveying ideas. In my mosaics, I have taken well-known stories with widely accepted images and endowed them with different plausible meanings in order to provoke a genuine reaction from the viewer. The fact that the works are created in glass tesserae (pieces of stone or glass) is an additional and unexpected surprise factor.

Soignée: What makes mosaics a unique medium for your storytelling?
Mosaics, by definition, are made up of small, individual “bits” incorporated into larger artworks. Due to their highly reflective surfaces, glass mosaics seem alive or in perpetual motion as the surrounding light changes with time of the day. This dynamic interaction with light transforms the interplay of all glass mosaic elements into an extraordinary visual feast.

Soignée: Why do you believe mosaics are a perfect medium for contemporary storytelling?
Utilizing mosaic as a means to tell these stories I believe it perfectly suits our times since it is the ultimate post-modern medium being simultaneously both ancient and contemporary. Although mosaic is an artistic medium that has been in use for thousands of years to recount the tales of ancient heroes, mosaic is configured much like our computer screen; each shard of glass, each minuscule particle of a mosaic, serves the same function as a pixel. Glass fragments, like the pixels, are the raw materials with which we construct a story and convey meaning.

And while mosaic traditionally recounted tales of mostly famous men from antiquity, I bring back ancient tales of women and cast them into the mosaic form. This serves to represent the contribution of women to a hero’s medium offering (according to women’s history) a representation and a validity that should have occurred thousands of years ago. With these monumental Mary Magdalene mosaics, I insert a feminine narrative into the ancient past taking on history’s transgression and cleaning up its shameful sin of omission.

Soignée: How do mosaics reflect our current societal dynamics?
In our 21st century, mosaics resonate with a certain contemporary Zeitgeist. We live in an era when cultures are overlapping, integrating and diluting each other. With the help of the Internet, these cultures also erode each other’s ‘cultural vocabularies’. As our world is becoming more and more fragmented, it is essential that the fractured elements must be put together in order to heal and make the world whole once again.

Soignée: How do you see the relationship between individual elements and the whole in your mosaics?
Mosaics with their “individual bits” that are incorporated into a large artwork reflect very well the present world arena with fractured society groups migrating and integrating into new cultures. The end result is an invigorating and exciting amalgam of colours and textures that work well together.

Soignée: What do you believe is the key to the success of your mosaic medium?
The success of the mosaic medium relies on the manner of laying the tesserae and the intended image functioning interdependently; each individual piece of glass retains its unique identity yet the eye assimilates the pieces into a whole image. The mosaics’ narrative statement resonating with vibrant colours combined with a surface of glass tesserae laid out in a flowing meaningful manner, are the type of artworks that reflect the current stage in my art. My artworks give homage to women of power!

Connect with Lilian Broca

The documentary Mary Magdalene in Conversation with Lilian Broca is available on Prime Video Direct in the US at the following link:

The Mary Magdalene Exhibition Catalogue is now available in digital format. To visit, please go to:

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