Vancouver artist who subverts Barbie and Ken claims antisemitism is behind her removal from a group exhibition

Dina Goldstein had her work pulled from a Vancouver exhibition just days before it was set to open—in what she has described as “a blatant act of antisemitism.”

But the gallery is claiming its decision to cut the Israeli-Canadian artist from the show was purely based on financial considerations, despite a recent news report and documentation from Goldstein that suggest there may have been other reasons.

An internationally acclaimed artist, Goldstein was scheduled to have her works shown at the Vancouver Centre of International Contemporary Art (CICA) from May 9 to June 29 as part of a group exhibition titled Toy Story, a look at the world of toys as seen through the eyes of artists from around the world.

Goldstein, who received widespread attention for her “Fallen Princesses” and “In the Dollhouse” series of tableaux, had been listed on the CICA website among the artists whose works would appear in the exhibition as recently as late April.

According to a report on Stir, a Vancouver website covering art news, Goldstein was notified by the gallery’s curator, Viahsta Yuan, on April 30 that her works, three pieces from the 10-image “In the Dollhouse” series, would not be shown during the exhibition. (Goldstein earlier arranged for the gallery to pick them up on May 2.)

Regarding her agreement with CICA after a studio visit by the curator on April 26, Goldstein said, two large pieces and two medium pieces were confirmed, available at the studio, framed and ready to be installed.

“One medium piece had to be produced because it is a diptych with a missing partner. This she requested I get going on. The other selections would be printed in small format. I was waiting to hear about the production of the small version. (The curator) wanted to show all 10 images if possible,” Goldstein said.

But then, in Goldstein’s account, which was sent to The CJN, Yuan disclosed to her that the gallery had received an email from a small group of Vancouver artists who wanted her excluded from the exhibition because she supported Israel.

The unnamed artists, in Goldstein’s words, felt that she did not deserve to exhibit her work during this time of war. Goldstein was offered an alternate solo exhibition within a year or two, or when the situation in Israel and Gaza might subside.

Yuan had, as Goldstein recalled, agreed that punishing an artist because of their Jewish identity was unjustifiable. Goldstein asked the curator to relay this message to the gallery committee as well as the importance of standing up to discrimination.

When she reached out to Yuan for an update on her meeting with the gallery committee, Goldstein received an email which cited, as she says, “a sudden budgetary issue as the reason for her removal. This explanation contradicted the previous acknowledgment of discrimination, with the decision now framed as a last-minute ‘creative choice.’”

“This experience takes me back to the times we may have had in our youth and being bullied. This is part of what antisemitism feels like,” Goldstein told The CJN, noting that the works in question have nothing to do with Gaza or Israel.

Goldstein, too, recounted that, unlike most people associated with the exhibition, she had been to Gaza and the West Bank while on an assignment in 1999, photographing Palestinians alongside her pictures from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and shared those memories on Instagram in recent months.

A selection of photos shared on Instagram by Dina Goldstein from her 1999 photojournalism in Gaza and the West Bank.

“In the Dollhouse,” created by Goldstein in 2012, features a pink, adult-size dollhouse in which Barbie and Ken reside. The series offers satirical situations around the house, sometimes with a risqué approach to social commentary.

Notes about the images on Goldstein’s website say that in them Barbie represents the notion that beauty is the ultimate trait and is necessary “to attain power and happiness.” Meanwhile, Ken discovers and expresses his true self after four decades of being “trapped in an imposed marriage.”

In their invitation to participate in the exhibition, CICA wrote that Goldstein’s dollhouse series “offers an intricate exploration of identity, conventional values, gender equality, and beauty. The inclusion will not only enrich the depth of the exhibition but also provide viewers with a fresh and unique reflection on the toy that has influenced a generation of people.

“We believe that the inclusion of ‘In the Dollhouse’ will offer a unique perspective and contribute significantly to the exhibition’s dialogue on the transformative power of toys as symbols within our lives.”

In Yuan’s version of events, as reported by Stir, after consultation with others at the gallery, CICA, which had originally selected five pieces from the series because of space considerations. After visiting Goldstein’s studio, she said only three of the pieces were ready.

Yuan then had another discussion with the gallery committee, and it was decided that CICA did not have the budget for production costs. Further, another artist was showing a piece about a dollhouse, and the gallery believed showing two works in dollhouses would be excessive.

CICA released a statement on May 4 in which it denied its decision to pull Goldstein’s work from the exhibition was based on “religious and cultural affiliation” but rather was related to financial considerations. Works by two other artists, Roby Dwi Antono and Aya Takano, CICA said, were also removed from the lineup. The organization emphasized its desire “to cultivate artistic dialogue and community engagement while emphasizing inclusivity and representation.”

“As a woman and BIPOC-led organization, prioritizing diversity is not just a goal but a guiding principle that informs every aspect of our work,” the statement from CICA read. “Since our inception, we have been dedicated to showcase a pluralistic range of contemporary art and ideas through our multidisciplinary exhibitions and programming.

“We are grateful to have collaborated with a distinguished group of over 35 local and international artists, with more than two-thirds from visible minority backgrounds. These cross-cultural collaborations are a testament to our commitment to platforming diversity while fostering a safe and accessible environment for all.”

CICA stressed that, like many non-profit arts organizations, it faced budgetary constraints and, with limited resources, it needed to make difficult decisions. As a result, three artists were not shown because of limited finances, a short time frame and “curatorial direction.”

The cultural and religious background of an artist would never warrant exclusion from the gallery, CICA went on to say, and that decisions were made only on artistic merit and how a work would fit into an exhibition.

“Discrimination of any kind has no place within our organization, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to platforming diversity and ensuring equitable representation in everything we do. Looking ahead, we will continue to embed the values of equity, inclusion, and diversity into every facet of our operations,” CICA said.

Established in 2021, CICA is a non-profit, multidisciplinary arts organization. According to its website, it provides “a forum for everyone to step into the art and learn while having fun” and aims “to enhance public engagement in the arts and bridge local and international artists for idea exchange, knowledge sharing, and collaboration.”