Local artist apologises after gallery removes his work over his racially charged online posts

Local artist Jonathan Lim (left) apologised for his actions, following his racially-charged social media posts against co-artist Priyageetha Dia and her friend. PHOTO: JONATHAN YONG-ERN LIM/FACEBOOK, PRIYAGEETHA DIA/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Local artist Jonathan Lim has apologised for his actions after his paintings at a visual art gallery in Kallang were removed following his racially charged social media posts against co-artist Priyageetha Dia and her friend.

His social media posts on Jan 10 sparked an online backlash and a discussion among netizens and artists about inclusivity in Singapore's art community.

When contacted by The Straits Times on Tuesday (Jan 14), Mr Lim reiterated his apology and added that he accepted the consequences of his words.

The controversy was ignited by his remarks on an incident at the joint opening night of two consecutive exhibitions at NPE Art Residency and Gallery. They were to feature his works and those of Ms Priyageetha, an installation artist.

Both aged 28, they had signed residency contracts with the gallery last October.

At the opening on Jan 9, Mr Lim alleged in his post that Ms Priyageetha's friend, whom he identified as Ms Chand Chandramohan, had laughed when guest of honour Ben Slater, an associate chair (students) at Nanyang Technological University, used the word iconoclastic.

Ms Chand subsequently said in a Facebook post that Mr Slater told her the word he wanted to use was iconography.

Mr Lim described her actions as "fundamentally socially inadequate" and "unkind" and used a racial slur against the two women, who are of Indian descent.

He also referred to them as members of a minority cult, adding that he was not afraid of people "who try to oppress me with the abuse of their minority privilege".

But later in the day, he apologised on social media for his earlier comments.

His posts prompted reactions from both women on the same day, while the gallery did so the following day.

Ms Priyageetha and Ms Chand, in separate Facebook posts, questioned Mr Lim's note, expressing concerns about inclusive and safe spaces for South Asian women artists in Singapore.

Ms Chand also highlighted portions of his post and said she expected an apology from NPE Art Residency for the incident, which she considered as racial and sexual harassment.

When contacted, Ms Priyageetha said Mr Lim had raised Ms Chand's conduct only on the day after the event.

"I was in disbelief and very furious. Jonathan crossed the line on so many levels, and I decided it was time to break my silence," she said.

"The snake slur is a demeaning, racial insult and has been used on me before," she added, referring to Mr Lim's use of the term "snakewhores".

Ms Priyageetha, who said NPE Art Residency and Gallery had contacted her following the incident, pointed out that arts institutions and organisations need to take concrete actions on inclusivity.

The gallery posted on its Facebook page that it "does not support and condemns racism".

"The NPE team has spoken to former artist in residence Jonathan Lim with regards to this stand and wishes to inform all future artists in residence to abide by this stand.

NPE has withdrawn all of Jonathan's works at the gallery with immediate effect," it added.

On Tuesday, Mr Lim told ST he had invited Mr Slater to speak at the event.

"Everything done (on the residency) was done as far as possible in consultation and collaboration with all necessary parties, including Ms Priyageetha," he added.

He also said that following the public backlash against his first post, he had received violent threats.

Mr Lim acknowledged that his initial post was "grossly unacceptable" and he accepted the gallery's decision.

"I am accountable for my words, and I accept the consequences of what I said and I hope others will accept my apology with grace."

Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

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