Foiled Again: Can Singapore Respect Minority Voices?

By Vanessa Tan

Earlier this week, residents of Block 103 Jalan Rajah complained about a new art installation by former Lasalle College of the Arts student Priyageetha Dia, causing it to be removed by the town council shortly after it was put up on Sun (Mar 18).

The 26-year-old artist had hung 24 gold-coloured sheets on the parapets of the block, and posted a video of the work on Facebook.

Ms Dia also met with controversy over her Golden Staircase installation in March last year, when she wrapped a staircase at the same HDB block with gold foil.

“Not all can appreciate the artwork; the golden sheets remind people of gold offering paper,” said Jalan Besar Member of Parliament (MP) Dr Lily Neo to Channel NewsAsia.

However, the same could have been said for Marcel Duchamp‘s Fountain (1917), which could very much remind people of the unflushed excrement they encountered in a public toilet and every other nauseating possibility beyond it.

The art piece was exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and Tate Modern.

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1999
Duchamp’s Fountain

This is not to say that Dia’s work was any similar. In fact, it’s far from grotesque or odd. Her work is quietly elegant, reminiscent of Singaporean flags flung over our corridor railings during the annual National Day season.

Taking down her work for its resemblance to offerings is a weak excuse. If they wish to pick on its aesthetic quality simply because it uses gold foil, they should ban Ferrero Rocher from the snack tables during Chinese New Year.

Many would argue that this, like the Golden Staircase situation, was a case of the artist’s failure to pass her art through HDB authorities. But would it have gone through, anyway?

Knowing that the town council’s previous suggestion of an “alternative site” for Ms Dia’s Golden Staircase artwork, a similar justification would have immediately hindered her art, which practically depends on the HDB space for its effectiveness.

Graciousness and Tolerance 

Offence, in this matter, was definitely a choice. If only these angered residents would activate their empathy to understand the artist’s intention, let the work remain open to interpretation, or simply just turn their heads away.

It all goes to show that our country is not yet functioning on a democracy that respects the plurality of voices, which should be expected given the existence of different cultures.

We still have miles to go before our public can maturely respond to art as the masses did with Duchamp. But until we get there, we can make room for graciousness and tolerance.

But if we wish to head in that direction, why should we tailor our public spaces to accommodate a singular understanding, and what more one that only belongs to the majority? When will we allow minority and alternative perspectives to thrive?

We still have miles to go before our public can maturely respond to art as the masses did with Duchamp. But until we get there, we can make room for graciousness and tolerance. Only then can we begin releasing our fists from choking up the creative outlets of Singapore, and allow more genuine art like Ms Dia’s to flow.


Image credits: Tate Modern, Priyageetha Dia


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