Arts & Culture

Priyageetha Dia: “The act of reclaiming is an exhaustive process.”

“Reclaiming space is essential for brown bodies.”

Words by

Thinking about creatives who make great impact with their work, Tania De Rozario and Priyageetha Dia immediately came to mind. They transform lived experiences and harsh truths into empowering expressions of art; occupying space and reclaiming the diversity and legitimacy of narratives beyond the majority and socially sanctioned.

Originally meant as a joint feature, I have decided to feature them individually to preserve the fullness of their words and let them each have your full attention. They deserve no less.

Priyageetha Dia works mainly in the realm of site-specific installations as well as spoken word group performativity. Speaking up about gender, race, and the thin line of public and private demarcated by authoritative figures, she goes beyond raising awareness but makes statements about what needs to be said. Bold, healing and monumental are some words, amongst others, that one may use to describe her practice thus far.

Priyageetha speaks to B-Side about her art practice, the act of reclamation and one of Tania’s work that stood out for her.

5. Sun rises in molten gold (contemplation:reclamation) 2020

Share with us what is it like to navigate the art world as a cisgender brown woman in a patriarchal society that silences brownness and disrespects women.

There are so many layers to being and occupying in a body as a cis brown womxn. And with patriarchal structures that coexist as oppressive -isms, it is hard enough to be visible and navigate in Singapore’s art scene. We are talking about racism, sexism, elitism, cissexism etc. Brown womxn and femmes voices are continuously silenced, erased, appropriated, and policed. These are the voices that have so much substantial importance in narrating their experiences and struggles in their practice yet the platform is given to Chinese artists who are considered superior ever since the Nanyang art movement. Navigating is still a work in progress and essentially, we collectively need to celebrate brown womxn and femmes for their efforts and continuously prioritise this representation.

Your works shed light on a range of themes, from spatial boundaries of public/private to gender, race and identity. They make very powerful statements about the condition of the world today and your own lived experiences.

Do you think, then, that to make works of frivolity and purely to entertain is to be privileged?

To make anything either playfully experimental or something of a statement, they are both built from a state of consciousness. It is a privilege we have and that is something we need to honour in our processes. Works that are made out of lightheartedness might eventually contribute to greater work.

3.Birth I (2018)
BIRTH I, 2018

Do you think that art can ever be divorced from the artist? What’s your take on supporting problematic artists?

I don’t believe the separation of art and the artist can exist. The art is an extension of the artist. It narrates the intentions, lived experiences, and struggles which is analogous of an artist. As for problematic artists, problematic by definition–someone who ticks the boxes of gendered racism and discrimination–yet celebrated at the same time for their mediocrity just shows how the system is a let down for brown artists in the art scene.

8. Jiwa(contemplation:reclamation)2019

The spoken word group performativity lends a whole new layer of meaning to your work and art practice. Talk us through how the group came together and how the idea to first engage in this way of making work came about.

The Cult Minority is ever-evolving. It collectively came together with individual brown artists and their mutual friends or brown artists who in the scene and share the same vision in building a foundation of solidarity with one another. This includes artists such as Divaagar, Chand Chadramohan, Norah Lea, Ilyas Lukman, Ila, Zeha, Div, Mysara Aljaru, and including independent curator Syaheedah Iskandar. Combining spoken word and group performance first came about in the mutual exchange of narratives and effortless gestures in contemplation/reclamation, which was performed in Yen Phang’s I.D (The Body’s Still Warm) house warming in 2018. And then it evolved to Jiwa at DECK in 2019 and then to Sun Rises in Molten Gold at ArtScience Museum in 2020.

1. Quintessential site of unrestricted joy, freedom, power and pleasure 2019

2.Quintessential site of unrestricted joy, freedom, power and pleasure (The Brown Body is a Black Body, 2019)

What does one have to do to truly reclaim what belongs to them?

The act of reclaiming is an exhaustive, emotionally laborious process. Reclaiming space is essential for brown bodies and it happens by being present, being visible, being heard either in digital or physical space. To establish that agency, we need non-brown accomplices and allies to do the work as well.

(Trigger warning: the following images contain depictions of blood and self-harm, which may be triggering. Do take ample care when looking through them. Thank you.)

Construct :: Destruct (2002) by Tania De Rozario. Credit: Hazel Lim.

Lastly, do select a work of Tania’s that stood out to you and share how it made you feel, especially as a creative yourself.

Most of Tania’s work revolves a lot around her literary writings but what stood out for me most was her archived performance work, Construct :: Destruct (2002), which was done 18 years ago. Looking at the close-ups of the documentation and its correspondence to the title, it distils the idea of deconstructing the image and constructing meaning and language back. The use of blood, skin and scars enveloping into the feminine features yet emanating the element of grotesqueness is visually striking. I was just 10, unknown to how the politics of the body, space, alliance and identity would be prominent for me now.

Read our interview with Tania De Rozario next week, 1 June 2020.

Photography and works featured courtesy of Priyageetha Dia, unless stated otherwise.

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