When Dina Goldstein’s “Fallen Princesses” exhibition debuted at Vancouver’s Buschlen Mowatt Galleries in 2009, it almost immediately sparked controversy. Or at least what passes for controversy nowadays, namely, it upset legions of commenters on the Internet. Two particular photographs incited a stream of quiet digital outrage: Goldstein’s Princess Jasmine (i.e., image 4), which Racialicious writer Latoya Peterson called out as stereotyping; and the image of an overweight Little Red Riding Hood (i.e., image 5), which Women’s Glib referred to as an exercise in fat shaming. These specific images, like those in the rest of the series, all depict Goldstein’s contrived reality designed for shock. But as often is the case, interpretation says as much about a viewer’s perception as it does about a creator’s intent.
For context, look at what Goldstein says in her statement on the series:
These works place Fairy Tale characters in modern day scenarios. In all of the images the Princess is placed in an environment that articulates her conflict. The ‘…happily ever after’ is replaced with a realistic outcome and addresses current issues… Disney’s perfect Princesses [are] juxtaposed with real issues that were affecting women around me, such as illness, addiction and self-image issues.
According to Goldstein, her mission with the project was fairly simple: Tell the untold stories in women’s lives, the not-so-pretty truth. Not a groundbreaking concept by any means, but straightforward in its intent. She did so by placing iconic characters in mundane and not-so-mundane everyday scenarios, creating an odd juxtaposition. For example, a princess shouldn’t appear trapped in a suburban ranch home, surrounded by children and abandoned by a disinterested husband. And Rapunzel shouldn’t get sick, her legendary locks another casualty of chemotherapy. These are realities reserved for common people, not those whose lives are chronicled in the pages of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. It’s unclear, however, what exactly Goldstein is trying to say.
Ideas like “Fallen Princesses” often come off as high concept art with little to say. While the images are intended to speak volumes, they are usually interpreted/misinterpreted as some form of racism, classism, sexism, or a yet-to-be-defined ism (see Racialicious and Women’s Glib examples above). In this case, with little to say on the artist’s part and guaranteed misinterpretation on the audience’s part, it all feels a bit futile, doesn’t it?