Return to Byzantium — The Art and Life of Lilian Broca

a documentary by Adelina Suvagau

December 15, 2011

Illuminating artistic inspiration

The remarkable life journey of Canadian artist Lilian Broca is dramatically portrayed in Return to Byzantium: The Art and Life of Lilian Broca, a 50-minute film produced by Sonia Productions in co-production with Romanian National Television.

After a lifetime dedicated to art, bringing her international recognition and awards, Lilian Broca returns to the country of her birth, Romania, for the first time in 52 years. The film employs dramatic ?flashback? recreations of Lilian?s past, representing memories of her experiences as a child, teenager and adult, as well as her search to understand religion, mythology, legends and symbols in order to regain a sense of her roots.

Broca awakened to her artistic nature at age seven, when her parents enrolled her in art classes. The country?s Soviet-dominated culture, however, discouraged self-expression and imagination. Her first glimpse of real art happened in her neighbourhood church:  there, on a wall was a brilliant Byzantine icon illuminated by a shaft of golden sunlight. Though lacking religious reference for Broca, the icon?s radiant splendour held her in its thrall, belying the otherwise drab, grey world in which she lived.

The film focusses on the visual aspects of the story: namely, the art of mosaic making and its technique, and specifically the revival of the glorious Byzantine style mosaics, a form of art that stayed dormant for years only to be ?re-discovered? in the 21st century. The film also raises compelling questions about the artist?s identity and her place in today?s complex modern society.

Over a long celebrated career, Broca has produced a prodigious body of work exploring contemporary social issues, particularly the role of women. This is evident in her much heralded Queen Esther Mosaic Series, featured in the recent book The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca. Broca returned to her earliest inspiration in Romania by employing Byzantine techniques, but with a distinctly contemporary sensitivity. The mosaics first achieved international recognition in winning the coveted Lorenzo il Magnifico Gold Medal at the 2003 Florence Biennale International Exhibition.

According to the eminent Romanian art critic Pavel Susara, in her mosaic work Broca reconciles the world of the Old Testament ? the Judaic world ? with both the ancient Byzantine and the Western contemporary worlds.?Lilian Broca does not regard herself as an artist locked in her studio,? writes Susara, ?but as someone who tries to resolve a fundamental problem, someone who tries to find her roots, rebuild her intrinsic coherence and regain her identity.? The film explores this artistic journey as well as Broca?s breathing fresh life into the ancient medium of mosaic.