The latest series by Vancouver photographer Dina Goldstein has received backlash from at least one Hindu group for her depiction of the religion's gods.
In "Gods of Suburbia," Goldstein takes well-known religious figures and sets them in the 21st century. Included in the series are Hindu gods Ganesh and Lakshmi, who some Hindus say are wrongfully represented.
"Reimagining Hindu scriptures and deities for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it hurt the devotees," Universal Society of Hinduism president Rajan Zed said in a statement on Saturday. "Ganesh and Lakshmi and other Hindu deities were meant to be worshipped in temples and home shrines and it was not appropriate to unnecessarily drag them around to push your personal interests."
Ganesh in "Gods of Suburbia"
Zed, who is based in Nevada, said that Hindus welcome the art world to explore their faith but that artists need to be more sensitive when handling religious subjects.
Goldstein acknowledges that her work is open to interpretation but believes that living in a democratic society allows her to express herself freely.
"Not everyone today has this privilege so I choose to exercise this within my art," she told The Huffington Post B.C. in an email on Monday.
"If you look at it rationally, there is no reason why people's beliefs are not open for debate. Religion hides behind ideas that are considered ‘sacred and holy.' The problem is that there are so many doctrines and sub doctrines existing today, with everyone thinking that their belief is omnipotent. Organized belief has always been divisive on a global scale."
Lakshmi in "Gods of Suburbia"
She spent a few weeks in India in 2012, which she said was where she became "captivated with the prominence of religious deities in society and in people’s personal lives."
Ultimately, she hopes her "Gods of Suburbia" series "will open a reasonable conversation about religion today."
Read Dina Goldstein's full response below:
In 2012 I was awarded the Arte Laguna prize that allowed me to travel to Mumbai and spend a few weeks in India. It was there that I was captivated with the prominence of religious deities in society and in people’s personal lives. The complex narratives and iconography of Hindu gods, goddesses and deities inspired me to look into religion and belief systems with a contemporary perspective. Within my art practice I use recognizable/ iconic figures first Disney Princesses and then Barbie and Ken, and now images of Gods to bring attention to various issues that are relevant to me. Lakshmi and Ganesh were the first pieces created for my new series Gods Of Suburbia. Lakshmi, depicted as a perfect example of how woman today shoulder the responsibilities of home and work and Ganesh, easily recognizable by his elephant head and human body, embodied my personal experience as an immigrant to Canada.
Hindu deities have been depicted throughout the ages in physical form for many centuries in a range of media. This has not always pleased the devout believer and like in other religions, many believe that depiction of a sacred god should never be exercised and in fact is reason for punishment. Within Hinduism we see such persecution of free thinking in the case of such artist as M. F. Husain who painted Hindu Gods and Goddesses unclothed and often in sexually suggestive poses. This hurt the religious sentiments of Hindu nationalist groups, which beginning in the 1990s mounted a campaign of protest against him. In 1998 Husain's house was attacked by Hindu groups like Bajrang Dal and art works were vandalized. The leadership of Shiv Sena endorsed the attack. This example shows how those that encourage ‘spiritual’ dogma are quick to judge those that have different views and opinions, and often promote violence to drive their message through.
I respect the rights of people to believe in and worship whatever gods they choose, even if I do not conform to a doctrine myself. However I live in a democratic society that allows me to speak frankly and openly. Not everyone today has this privilege so I choose to exercise this within my art. My work is open to interpretation and so I don’t respond to everyone that calls me out and feels offended. I’m sure that Zed will not be the only spiritual leader to critic my work and to be offended by Gods Of Suburbia. If you look at it rationally there is no reason why people beliefs are not open for debate. Religion hides behind ideas that are considered ‘sacred and holy’. The problem is that there are so many doctrines and sub doctrines existing today, with everyone thinking that their belief is omnipotent. Organized belief has always been divisive on a global scale.
I am hoping that my art will open a reasonable conversation about religion today.