13 life size paintings by Francisco de Zurbaran (17th Century Spanish painter) hang in Auckland Castle, depicting the men in the biblical family of Jacob, but not the women (Jacob’s two wives, two concubines and daughter). They are Missing Women.
Inspired by these missing women, Creative Youth Opportunities, in partnership with The Auckland Project, is working with young people and five professional artists to create collaborative exhibitions in Auckland Castle and Bishop Auckland Town Hall. The young people are mainly female and are drawn from the Bishop Auckland and Willington area. Many of them face bias and discrimination in their everyday lives due to factors including gender, race, class and parenthood.
The professional artists will create portraits of the five missing women, which will be on a life size scale to match that of the Zurbarans. To do this they will be supported by the young people who will work with the artist and a creative facilitator to create reference material for use in creating the final portraits.
The artists are Lady Kitt, Leanne Pearce, Lizzie Lovejoy, Edwina Kung and Jilly Johnson. Each of these artists will create a life size portrait of one of the “Missing Women”.
"An outline of Lizzie's approach to interpreting the story of their missing woman: Bilhah
"I read through Bilhah’s story, every version of it I could find. I thought about what had been the same across all renditions of her history: she was loyal, she was a mother and she was a survivor. Most of the time I like to talk to the people I draw pictures of. It wasn’t that easy to do with the Missing Women, so I decided to have a conversation with them by myself; creating poems and spoken word pieces from their perspectives until I felt we understood each other.
"I took in all of the words and perspectives of the young people that I worked with as part of this project and combined that with what I had come to understand about Bilhah before beginning to illustrate not only what I thought she would look like, but what she would have around her, items to represent and symbolise her character.
"She is surrounded by clocks; which were linked to the idea of her sadness, various building tools; linked to her resilience and strength, as well as suns and stars; which shared her burning anger. Bilhah would have felt and experienced all these emotions without the means to express them in a world where she was likely a slave to her own sister. I wanted this image to be honest and truthful in a non-literal display of colour and collage.
"How has Lizzie worked with the young people to support their interpretation and development?
"I worked with a group of young people at AYCC, discussing the concepts of symbolism and allegory. When we looked at the stories of the Missing Women, and especially Bilhah, they seemed to feel the rage on her behalf. They described how they would feel in her situation as “going barmy” and being “proper rag”. They all fully understood the fact that Bilhah was under many other peoples power, but that she herself held a very specific power as someone who could carry a child when Rachel could not.
"We all considered various pictures and items and what they could mean before looking at colours. Together, we linked the relevant items and colours to Bilhah to express the complex emotions and roles which she had taken on in her personal narrative.
"Towards the end of the sessions, myself and Kate asked the group how they wanted Bilhah to look, specifically whether or not they wanted her to look accurate to the time period. The decision was split, with more people siding on the idea of keeping her depiction faithful to the era. I compromised by keeping her more traditional dress and styling or more modern colours for fabrics that reflected the allegory we had developed together.
BBC News Coverage
Spoken Word Development Poem