When the name of an artist is synonymous with their artwork, it means that they have achieved a certain level of recognition. Like Jeff Koons and his Balloon Dog, Priyageetha Dia (@pdia___) is a Singaporean installation artist whose name has become inextricably linked with her artwork, “Golden Staircase.”
Dia first exploded into the local art scene in 2017, when she was in her final year as a fine arts student at Lasalle College of the Arts. It was a year of change for Dia: She was fresh off a redirected course from her original graphics design background, struggling to find her place as a minority female artist in the art field, and navigating her parents’ impending separation. She began looking into the hollow core of the HDB (Singapore’s public high-rise apartments) experience — a place of familiarity she was about to leave behind — and made it the subject of her dissertation. “I was trying to understand a part of my growing up,” she says. The result of all that was “Golden Staircase,” an art piece where she covered a full flight of stairs in an HDB block, in gold foil.
“By using gold, it felt like I was creating a very sacred moment in this space,” she says. By using art to commodify a public space — especially in a working class environment — Dia’s statement was loud and clear. The following year, she hoisted 24 gold, mylar flags on the same building. Although both golden artworks have since been removed, the conversations they opened up about censorship and governance in Singapore, as well as vandalism and art in the public sphere, are still ongoing. “It’s weird thinking about how these controversies exist as a memory now,” says Dia, who has internalised these experiences as part of her identity.
Her works now bravely confront the themes of identity politics, and of course, the inclusion of race and gender. In 2018, Dia collaborated with Grey Projects, a non-profit space that supports emerging artists, to produce a filmic photo series picturing her nude figure, painted in gold, thrown into the open of a public housing environment. Considering all that she has accomplished, it’s hard to believe that Dia is only 28 years old, but her current status is really the fruit of her relentless boldness in challenging the conservatism of the city-state. “Censorship and restrictions are always going to be there, no matter which country one resides in,” she says of the lengths she’s gone to make a statement. “The key is for an artist to find clever and creative ways to present their works.”
Growing up as an Indian in Singapore, Dia has considered the possibility that she may never make it as an artist. “The one thing I identify with in the struggle of being a brown artist, is that not as many opportunities come through [for you] as opposed to your majority race counterparts — you have to source for these opportunities or create them yourself.” Since the blow-up of the “Golden Staircase” and the rippling series of golden projects, Dia is questioning her role, perhaps as an instigator of change.
“As an artist, I find it important to build anti-capitalist strategies within my practice, enabling the working class as the audience, to build practical solidarity so as to empower marginalised voices,” says Dia. In doing so, Dia continues to reach for the colour gold in protest, utilising irony to spotlight these social issues.
The constant amplification of messages via the Internet is clearly a double-edged sword. While it’s true that artists are exposed to some form of camaraderie on social media, now more so than ever, it also means that art and culture is subjected to the public’s evaluation based on its politic or economic success. Dia points out, “If you look at art as something that should produce economic results, it downplays a lot about how it can actually challenge or change the society that we live in.”
Now as a part-time art educator, Dia seeks to cultivate a learning space where a diverse range of knowledge is being passed around. “It’s like being part of an institution that is a sharing circle,” she says. Even then, she acknowledges that graduating from an art institute doesn’t promise one a career as an artist. It is, however an open possibility for those who continue to actively engage and impact the community. For Dia, it is about not bring afraid to lay bare her own vulnerabilities while constructing a version of herself as a force in the industry. “If it’s making you uncomfortable, the magic of [art] is working.”
Photograph by Gregory Woo
Styling by Michelle Kok
Hair by Christvian Goh (ARX Salon)
Makeup by Wee Ming using Shu Uemura
Clothing: COS dress, S$190
Props: Hay Result chair, S$570, available at Grafunkt
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