An award-winning Vancouver artist is uncertain whether her photograph depicting the back of the Prophet Muhammed will be included in an upcoming show in Manchester, England.
Dina Goldstein told the Georgia Straight by phone that she and the owner of the Richard Goodall Gallery have discussed the possibility of placing the image in a private room when her series of images, Gods of Suburbia, is presented in March.
"We don't know what to do with it at this point because he is Jewish and I am Jewish," Goldstein said. "So it becomes, I think, an even bigger issue if it's the Jewish people who are putting on this art."
The series also includes an artistic representation of Jesus Christ as the head of a street gang at the last supper in the Downtown Eastside.
Satan is shown as a tow-truck driver about to haul away a grandmother’s vehicle. Elohim (God the Father) sits on the edge of a bed looking forlorn, and Charles Darwin appears in a casino full of slot machines.
Those aren’t the only images. Buddha shows up in a produce section of food market. The African goddess Voodoo sits at the table in an unlit kitchen. The moon goddess Wicca appears topless on a white horse. And Lord Xenu, a creation of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, is seen as a therapist to a psychiatrist.
Last year after the first exhibition of Gods of Suburbia, Goldstein received nasty emails from people who were upset about her depiction of two Hindu deities, Laxmi and Ganesh. Ganesh, the so-called elephant-headed god, is shown sitting on a school-yard bench being taunted by a boy who’s plugging his nose.
A Nevada-based Hindu group issued a statement in November saying that Ganesh and Laxmi should be worshipped in shrines and shouldn’t be reimagined for commercial or other purposes.
"Of course, people are going to get insulted, but that's what happens when you start discussing religion because no matter what you say about it, it's an extension of magical thinking," Goldstein said.
She chose not to present an image of a face of Muhammed and insisted that she didn't insult the Prophet, unlike cartoonists at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
"I figured out a way to do it in a way that adhered to their laws," Goldstein explained. "I'm not offending. I'm really making the point that there's such a divide between the East and West. I'm even giving him that supernatural glow and that spirit."
She noted that the Hadiths, which are oral compilations of the Prophet’s teachings, make reference to not depicting Muhammed. However, she said that there is nothing explicit about this in the Koran, which is the sacred text of Islam. Goldstein also mentioned that Mohammed has been shown symbolically as a flame in the past.
At the same time, she condemned the January 7 attack on Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 people, as “hateful, cold, and calculated”, describing the publication’s journalists and cartoonists as “martyrs of free expression”. It was followed by three days of terror in Paris that included the murder of a rookie policewoman and four people in a Jewish supermarket. Three Islamist gunmen were killed by police.
Goldstein, who was born in Israel, said that followers of other religions have, at times, forbidden visual depictions of their leaders. She noted that one of the 10 Commandments of Judaism prohibits “graven images”. In the period of Iconoclasm, Byzantine Christianity banned representations of sacred figures in the eighth and ninth centuries.
So why create Gods of Suburbia?
“I think within Canada, religion is kept within the privacy of your home,” she responded. “It’s not something that comes out with you in public. That’s why, metaphorically, I have this suburbia where people keep their religion.”
“Because satire is so deep-seated in their culture, my work was very much accepted,” Goldstein said. “That’s why I probably won the exhibition.”