What artist says

With permission, 'it wouldn't have gone viral'

Art student Dia, 25, said she believes art is a means to get people thinking, and that she is sensitive and respectful of her living space.
Art student Dia, 25, said she believes art is a means to get people thinking, and that she is sensitive and respectful of her living space.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

The art student behind the goldfoiled staircase said that had she sought authorisation to do it, the resulting work would not have prompted the dialogue now swirling over it.

If she had got permission from the authorities, as many said she should have, "it wouldn't have been this viral", Ms Priyageetha Dia, 25, told The Sunday Times.

"It wouldn't have caused a dialogue over whether art should need a licence.

"People now come to this space, they look at the staircase in a different light now, they admire the staircase. In a way, they are giving respect to the space as well."

She believes "art is not just to beautify a place aesthetically, but it's also a means to get people thinking".


In a phone interview on Friday, Ms Dia sounded weary as she responded to critics who say that her work is vandalism. She had covered one flight of staircase in her Housing Board block in Jalan Rajah, Balestier, in gold foil.

She said: "As an artist, I wonder why everything needs to be licensed. If I (had sought) permission, there wouldn't be a thrill in doing it; I need that adrenaline rush in my art-making process."

Many have compared her goldfoiled staircase to the 2015 incident of two Germans spray-painting MRT trains.

Ms Dia was quick to draw a distinction between her work and what she considers to be "vandalism" by the pair.

She said: "In my work, I didn't deface the staircase; I enhanced it. And foil is easily removable, unlike spray paint."

To her, an artist needs to be "aware" of the space. "I have been living in this space for 25 years - all my life - so I'm sensitive to this space, I respect it. For those guys, they are foreigners defacing the trains, there is also a greater sense of damage to property."

Ms Dia spent about five hours and $20 working on this project.

Her connection with the colour gold stems from her Hindu caste, which comprises goldsmiths. "I wanted to see how I can use gold foil to interact with something that is very much the opposite in terms of material quality. When the gold foil and the cement staircase come together, they give the staircase a certain value."

As for when it will be taken down, Ms Dia declined to be specific, saying only that she will remove it "eventually". "I started this project because I wanted art to be spontaneous, so I want its end to be spontaneous as well."

Dr Lily Neo, an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, said the block was due for cleaning last week, but this was postponed as the town council did not want to destroy Ms Dia's work before getting in touch with the artist.

"We are holding off the cleaning for a while as we are still waiting for her to respond, to see how we can work together to display her creativity in other ways, such as wall murals," said Dr Neo.

•Additional reporting by Audrey Tan


A short time lapse of the stairs. http://str.sg/4hLk

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 12, 2017, with the headline 'With permission, 'it wouldn't have gone viral''. Print Edition | Subscribe