Bela Lugosi by Monica Lundy

Monica Lundy

Bela Lugosi, 2017, Mixed media on panel overlaid with silver leaf, 5.25 x 5.25 cm, Collection of the artist, © Monica Lundy; Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Nancy Toomey Fine

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Rising Stars

Commentary by

The provisions for a refugee who found sanctuary in a biblical city of refuge are summed up in the simple words ‘and live’ (Deuteronomy 4:42). In Talmudic tradition, this meant more than simply being protected from blood vengeance. It meant that refugees were entitled to all the amenities that would allow them to live as a productive member of the community, including opportunities for education and employment, even the eligibility to receive honours (Babylonian Talmud Makkot 10a).

These provisions are illuminated by Monica Lundy’s portrait Béla Lugosi (2017). Included as part of the 2017 exhibition series ‘Sanctuary City: With Liberty and Justice for Some’, a yearlong tribute to American immigrants which took place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Berkeley, California, this portrait celebrates the Hungarian actor Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó. Béla fled his homeland during the Hungarian Revolution of 1919 migrating to the United States, where, taking the name ‘Lugosi’ in honour of his birthplace, he became an iconic figure in American horror films. He is best known for his role as Count Dracula in Tod Browning’s classic 1931 film (Rhodes 1997: 3–38).

Lundy chose to paint Béla’s face on silver-leaf to play with the notion of the ‘silver screen’, a phrase synonymous with the era of Hollywood in which Béla reached the height of his career. Her use of messy drips and finger smudges to define his brow nose, and cheeks over this opulent backdrop conveys both a distress and dignity, representing Béla’s struggle as an immigrant and his success in the film industry.*

We might imagine a similar portrait being created to honour a refugee who lived in one of the biblical cities of refuge. According to Talmudic readings, the provisions and supports available in the city would allow a refugee to rise high—even, perhaps, achieving heights like those scaled by the modern-day celebrities commemorated in the ‘Sanctuary City’ exhibition.



*I want to thank Monica Lundy for taking the time to discuss her painting with me via email

Pleasant, Amy. 2017. ‘Artist’s Mobilize: With Liberty and Justice for Some … An Exhibition Honoring Immigrants, 19 January 2017’,, [accessed 11 February 2020]

Rhodes, Gary Don. 1997. Lugosi: His Life in Films, on Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company)

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