‘Gods of Suburbia’: Dina Goldstein’s Arresting Photo Series on Religion vs. Consumerism
The photographer’s project places Gods of various faiths in modern-day scenarios “to communicate how organized belief has become twisted within a global framework driven by consumerism and greed.”
Gods of Suburbia is Dina Goldstein’s third large-scale project. The work is a visual analysis of religious faith within the context of the modern forces of technology, science and secularism. The series plays with narrative and religious iconography in order to communicate how organized belief has become twisted within a global framework driven by consumerism and greed. The project challenges the viewer — religious or secular — to embark on a journey of self-reflection as they contemplate the relevance of dogma in modernity.
Last Supper, East Vancouver
This piece is inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's iconic, Last Supper, which was painted in the late 15th century in Milan, Italy. My reenactment of history’s most famous dinner party is meant to portray the treatment of the most vulnerable by society. I have placed Jesus and his Apostles, a street gang, specifically in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This is Canada’s poorest postal code and a place of chronic drug abuse, alcohol addiction and mental illness. Jesus and the Apostles consume the diet of street people: cheap packaged noodles, cheap beer and canned tuna, while Judas plots his betrayal of Jesus. In Vancouver, so much money has flowed into the Downtown Eastside, but it is still a place of violence, addiction and homelessness. Like Judas, who betrayed Jesus for money, many have benefitted from initiatives to help Vancouver’s poor, yet the poor still have nothing.
Who doesn’t wish they could be Satan, just for a day, operating without the prick of a conscience? My modern Mephistopheles is a tow-truck driver, winching up the car of a grandmother who pleads with him but her dismay amuses him. This photograph is a critique of how draconian the rules of society can be. Satan has the authority to tow grandmother’s car away, but is it the right thing to do? As a society, we devise laws that are meant to make society a just place for all—but we fail so often.
Elohim (God the Father)
Elohim is the name for God that is found in the Hebrew Bible. In my narrative his aspirations and dreams are unfulfilled. He is living in a flophouse, taking odd jobs to survive. Is his failure mankind itself? Or is the concept of God as omnipotent flawed? If man was made in God’s image, it makes sense that he can fail too—Why is goodness and peace so rare while war, cruelty, suffering and environmental degradation so prevalent?
Scientology, created by Ron L. Hubbard, is controversial; due in part such famous Hollywood members, as well as its unusual science fiction like doctrines. One is the myth of Xenu, who is acting as a therapist for a psychiatrist, a twist on the Scientology belief that psychiatry as a profession is barbaric and corrupt. According to Scientology, Xenu took control of Earth’s inhabitants with the help of Thetans from space who inserted anxiety and self doubt into humans. In order to expel the corruptions left by the Thetans, through the process of Dianetics, Scientology Auditors interview and record their members in a process called ‘Auditing’. This portrait illustrates how those who control the minds and hearts of people through dogma are quick to condemn things that encourage free, independent thought.
Voodoo is the official religion of Haiti and was brought into the West Indies nation by African slaves. Demonized by Hollywood, it is a belief system like conventional religions, in that it seeks to make sense of the world and the eternal question: “Why are we here?” This photograph references Voodoo and is homage to African slaves. The setting is a much loved home that is about to be torn down, the young woman who grew up here is surrounded by the ghost-like memories from childhood. In the background, outside, is Papa Legba, who is a Loa, the word for a Voodoo deity. He is the intermediary between the human world and the spiritual world. In Voodoo, the demarcation between life and death is more fluid; helping Voodoo followers create order out of disorder. The snake represents Damballa Veve. He is a snake-god of fertility and the father of all Loa. The chicken feet are a voodoo fetish, and act as protection. The presence of the chicken feet protects and preserves the unseen but nonetheless unbreakable bonds of love and family.
Wicca is an ancient belief system that originated in prehistoric times. In Wicca, female and male are equally sacred. As a modern belief system, it is given little respect or credence thanks in part to a misunderstanding of this faith, which often times is portrayed in Hollywood as good and bad witches. In Wicca, the female goddess is represented by the Moon, a symbol of Mother Earth and fertility. The male Wiccan god is given horns, representing the horned animals that ancient humans hunted. Some historians say that the Christian church gave Satan horns to demonize the Wiccan faith. Wicca includes ceremony and ritual that serves the union of the divine with nature rather than embracing a personal god. This is something that we associate with people who are on the fringe of society, which is why my Wiccan god and goddess are, living on the outside of the mainstream, along the periphery of Suburbia.
Darwin was a British Scientist who developed the theory of evolution and natural selection. As a young man, Darwin was deeply religious and even considered being ordained. But instead he pursued a life of science, sailing all over the world to study animal species and their environments. His observations of the many varieties of Finch birds in the Galapagos Island led him to solidify his theory of natural selection. His famous theories were based upon the scientific method, where you create a hypothesis and then prove it through experimentation. Darwin was among the many scientists that have helped society evolve out of mysticism, superstition and faith. But science does not hold the answer to everything and even subscribes to the randomness of life on Earth.
Muhammad The Prophet
Muslims have a rich history as scholars and philosophers, and modernity owes much to the Islamic Golden age, which flourished from the 7th to the 13th century. Muslims made many discoveries in mathematics, chemistry, physics, medicine, astronomy and psychology. All of this hundreds of years before science arrived in Europe. This piece explores the obvious disconnect between the East, specifically Islamic principles and the West’s secular ideals, which is currently at the forefront of international concern. Fundamentalism is on the rise, combining Dark Age torture with high tech social media to recruit. Each side has deeply seeded beliefs that are based on directly opposing ideologies. Can the concepts of different religions co-exist within an ever-expanding global population?
This is Lord Ganesh, one of the most prominent deities in Hinduism and the god of obstacles. This portrait reflects my personal experiences from childhood. As an immigrant to Canada, I was bullied for being different and for not speaking English You can see in the photo that what differentiates people is not only what they eat, and how they dress, but also what they believe in. Being bullied makes people internalize their feelings and beliefs. By staying open to other ways of thinking and listening to the stories of those who come from different places, we can grow and enhance our own lives.
Laksmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, beauty and money. And isn’t the workingwoman today supposed to embody all these traits? Her four hands are the many responsibilities she shoulders. She must be beautiful and attractive for her partner and bring home at least half of the family income. But she is still in the kitchen, responsible for the running of the household. The black mamba snake slithering towards Lakshmi is highly venomous. If Lakshmi fails in many responsibilities, what happens to her family, her community, her followers?
The word Buddha means "awakened one" or "the enlightened one”. Buddhism is about the search for truth or enlightenment by rejecting the three poisons that keep us from true fulfillment, they are: ignorance, attachment and aversion, which equate to the Western psychological concepts of narcissism, desire, and hatred. The 3 poisons are the result of Ignorance isn't just an inability to apprehend the truth but an active misapprehension of oneself and one’s surroundings—It is the blind assumption that things are different then in actuality. I’ve placed Buddha in a high-end supermarket to illustrate how far we live and exist from the ideals of Buddhism, which we, in the West, pay homage to with yoga and meditation. The irony is that we continue our immersion in the three poisons when we shop at such overpriced designer supermarkets. They are a façade—they hide truth with labels like Organic. They indulge our narcissism and desire – separating the haves even further from the have-nots, who can’t shop at such places and are left with GMO and lower scale food.
For more of Dina's work, visit her website here.