Jalan Rajah "Golden staircase" incident (2017)

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The golden staircase that had been intended as an art installation by Lasalle student Priyageetha Dia. Photo from Priyageetha Dia's Facebook.

On 6 March 2017, a photograph of a 'golden staircase' on the 20th floor of a Housing Development Board (HDB) block at Jalan Rajah emerged on the online forum Reddit with the caption "Why did someone cover these HDB stairs in gold foil?!".[1] The incident subsequently attracted the attention of mainstream media and elicited responses from Jalan Besar Town Council and Singapore politicians. The incident sparked debate regarding the nature of the installation, where some viewed it as art while others dismissed it as vandalism.[2] This incident generated a similar debate as to the “Sticker Lady” saga that occurred in 2012.

Details of incident[edit | edit source]

Priyageetha removed all the gold foil from the staircase - save this small square - on 12 March 2017. Photo from Priyageetha Dia's Facebook.

On 7 March 2017, Facebook user Priyageetha Dia revealed that she was responsible for the installation.[3] Priyageetha Dia was a final-year Lasalle College of Fine Arts student and the piece had been intended as part of her final-year project. In her Facebook post (original Facebook post), she expressed the reasoning behind her installation. Her interest in "the spaces that she has inhabited over the course of 25 years as a HDB dweller" was cited as the primary motivation behind her actions.[4]


In an interview with The New Paper dated 9 March 2017, Priyageetha explained that although she had thought of the idea in February 2017, she only executed it on 4 March 2017.[5] She worked on the installation for approximately 5 hours, using adhesive to stick the gold foil onto the entire flight of stairs. She added that she had consulted her lecturers prior to the execution of her idea and further explained that she had a personal connection with gold as her family had "a history with goldsmiths".[6][7] When questioned about the legality of her work, she expressed that she viewed her installation as an art piece and not vandalism which she defined as "...something that doesn’t respect another individual".[8]

Responses[edit | edit source]

'Absent — Present' (2018). Photo from Artlyst.

Residents[edit | edit source]

In light of the incident, The Sunday Times conducted interviews with 14 residents staying at the Jalan Rajah HDB block. The majority were in favour of Priyageetha Dia’s work and did not view her installation as an act of vandalism.[9] One interviewee pointed out that "... the foiling lacks the permanence required to constitute ‘marking’ under the Vandalism act".[10] At the same time, they felt that Priyageetha Dia should have requested for permission from the Jalan Besar Town Council especially since the staircase is public property. One interviewee described the installation as "absurd".[11]

Lasalle College of the Arts[edit | edit source]

A spokesperson for the school clarified that Priyageetha Dia’s installation had intended to "encourage discussion on what constitutes public and private space".[12] The spokesperson also assured that the school would work closely with Priyageetha Dia and Jalan Besar Town Council to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the matter.[13]

Jalan Besar Town Council[edit | edit source]

The site of the 'golden staircase', Block 103 Jalan Rajah, falls under the management of the Jalan Besar Town Council. The town council voiced that the installation was "unauthorised" and "not-permissible" according to the stipulated regulations.[14] However, in recognition of "her passion for the arts and desire to enhance her surrounding space", a council spokesperson announced that the monthly scheduled staircase washing would be postponed so as to ensure that the gold foiled staircase would not be damaged.[15]


In a report by The Straits Times, Jalan Besar Group Representation Constituency Member of Parliament Lily Neo expressed that the town council "hoped to work with Priyageetha Dia" with regards to exhibiting her work in alternative locations, such as wall murals.[16]

Priyageetha Dia[edit | edit source]

On 12 March 2017, Priyageetha Dia removed all the gold foil on the staircase leaving only a small square of gold papering on a corner of the lowest step.[17] In a Facebook post dated 12 March 2017, she uploaded a photo of the cleaned staircase with the caption "The existence and the end of this work bears my responsibility and no one else's. With a little trace left behind, a memento of the space".[18] In a text message to The Straits Times, she asserted that the gold foil was "voluntarily removed" by her with "no pressure from the town council".[19]


Priyageetha has since graduated from Lasalle with a Bachelor (Hons) in Fine Arts and held her first solo exhibition titled ‘Upgraded’ at Art Porters Gallery in 2018.[20]

Politicians[edit | edit source]

Nee Soon Town Council chairman Louis Ng expressed that discussion between artists and authorities would enable the government to better educate the artists on major consideration factors such as public safety when artists decide to embark on installations in public spaces.[21] He also added that "there are other avenues for residents to express their creativity" citing Nee Soon East as an example where there are "dedicated walls for students to draw murals".[22]


Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and chairman of Tampines Town Council Baey Yam Keng addressed the challenges encountered by the authorities in tackling the fine line between art and vandalism. He stated that the subjective nature of such public art pieces "could set a precedent for vandals to claim their work as art in the future".[23] However, he asserted his hope that "young artists would not be discouraged and work with authorities to enliven community spaces".[24]

Golden flags (2018)[edit | edit source]

On 18 March 2018, Priyageetha Dia hung gold mylar sheets on every floor of her HDB Block in Jalan Rajah.[25] The sheets were cut into the size of a flag and hung on the hooks which are typically used to hang the Singapore flag during national day celebrations. According to Priyageetha Dia, she wanted to "provoke its (the hooks) functionality by hanging another material" other than the national flag.[26] She hung a total of 24 gold sheets, from the 2nd floor to the 25th floor. The whole process, inclusive of cutting the flags, took her a total of 5 hours.


The project was titled ‘Absent — Present' (2018)[27] and taken down by the Jalan Besar Town Council by 22 March 2018. This project was executed without obtaining prior permission from the Jalan Besar Town Council, drawing similarities to her ‘Golden Staircase’ installation in 2017.[28]


The sheets had been taken down after some residents lodged complaints stating that the sheets "reminded them of joss paper and were inauspicious".[29] The town council stressed that "organisations or individuals who wish to use common property for their artistic pursuits" should contact the town council, so that both parties can discuss the "best arrangement for all the parties concerned".[30]

References / Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. "Why did someone cover these HDB stairs in gold foil?!". Reddit. Accessed on 6 Mary 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.reddit.com/r/singapore/comments/5xnf4g/why_did_someone_cover_these_hdb_stairs_in_gold/
  2. Lim, Adrian. “Golden staircase out of step with town council laws”. The Straits Times. March 8, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/golden-staircase-out-of-step-with-town-council-laws
  3. Priyageetha Dia. Facebook. March 7, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1134433546668285&set=a.119329988178651&type=3&theater
  4. Priyageetha Dia. Facebook. March 7, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1134433546668285&set=a.119329988178651&type=3&theater
  5. Liew, Isabelle and Soh, Charmaine. “Art student’s unapproved gold staircase sparks debate”. The New Paper. March 9, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from:  https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/art-students-unapproved-gold-staircase-sparks-debate
  6. Liew, Isabelle and Soh, Charmaine. “Art student’s unapproved gold staircase sparks debate”. The New Paper. March 9, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from:  https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/art-students-unapproved-gold-staircase-sparks-debate
  7. Wong Nava, Eva. "Female Midas Depicts Alternative Golden Perspective Through Visual Art". Artlyst. April 8, 2018. Accessed on 6 May 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.artlyst.com/features/female-midas-depicts-alternative-golden-perspective-visual-art/
  8. Liew, Isabelle and Soh, Charmaine. “Art student’s unapproved gold staircase sparks debate”. The New Paper. March 9, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from:  https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/art-students-unapproved-gold-staircase-sparks-debate
  9. Zhao, Jiayi. “Some call it vandalism but many residents disagree”. The Straits Times. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/some-call-it-vandalism-but-many-residents-disagree
  10. Tan, Audrey. “Golden staircase: Is it art - or not?”. The Straits Times. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/its-art
  11. Zhao, Jiayi. “Some call it vandalism but many residents disagree”. The Straits Times. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/some-call-it-vandalism-but-many-residents-disagree
  12. Tan, Audrey. “Golden staircase: Is it art - or not?”. The Straits Times. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/its-art
  13. Tan, Audrey. “Golden staircase: Is it art - or not?”. The Straits Times. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/its-art
  14. Leow, Diane. Kek, Xabryna. “Jalan Rajah 'golden staircase' will eventually go: Artist”. Channel News Asia. March 21, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/jalan-rajah-golden-staircase-will-eventually-go-artist-8773756
  15. Leow, Diane. Kek, Xabryna. “Jalan Rajah 'golden staircase' will eventually go: Artist”. Channel News Asia. March 21, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/jalan-rajah-golden-staircase-will-eventually-go-artist-8773756
  16. Chew, Hui Min. “Art student returns golden staircase to grey concrete”. The Straits Times. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/art-student-returns-golden-staircase-to-grey-concrete
  17. Chew, Hui Min. “Art student returns golden staircase to grey concrete”. The Straits Times. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/art-student-returns-golden-staircase-to-grey-concrete
  18. Priyageetha Dia. Facebook. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1139042129540760&set=pb.100003049519850.-2207520000.1552283689.&type=3&theater
  19. Chew, Hui Min. “Art student returns golden staircase to grey concrete”. The Straits Times. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/art-student-returns-golden-staircase-to-grey-concrete
  20. "PRIYAGEETHA DIA". ArtPorters Gallery. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.artporters.com/artists/priyageetha-dia/
  21. Tan, Audrey. “Golden staircase: Is it art - or not?”. The Straits Times. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/its-art
  22. Tan, Audrey. “Golden staircase: Is it art - or not?”. The Straits Times. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/its-art
  23. Tan, Audrey. “Golden staircase: Is it art - or not?”. The Straits Times. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/its-art
  24. Tan, Audrey. “Golden staircase: Is it art - or not?”. The Straits Times. March 12, 2017. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/its-art
  25. Ang, Tian Tian. “'Golden staircase' artist's 'golden' flags removed after complaints”. The New Paper. March 22, 2018. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/golden-staircase-artists-golden-flags-removed-after-complaints
  26. Ang, Tian Tian. “'Golden staircase' artist's 'golden' flags removed after complaints”. The New Paper. March 22, 2018. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/golden-staircase-artists-golden-flags-removed-after-complaints
  27. Wong Nava, Eva. "Female Midas Depicts Alternative Golden Perspective Through Visual Art". Artlyst. April 8, 2018. Accessed on 6 May 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.artlyst.com/features/female-midas-depicts-alternative-golden-perspective-visual-art/
  28. Ang, Tian Tian. “'Golden staircase' artist's 'golden' flags removed after complaints”. The New Paper. March 22, 2018. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/golden-staircase-artists-golden-flags-removed-after-complaints
  29. Aripin, Nurul Azliah. “Gold 'flags' hung by artist Priyageetha Dia removed after residents said they look like joss paper”. Channel News Asia. March 23, 2018. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/gold-flags-hung-by-artist-priyageetha-dia-removed-after-10065998  
  30. Aripin, Nurul Azliah. “Gold 'flags' hung by artist Priyageetha Dia removed after residents said they look like joss paper”. Channel News Asia. March 23, 2018. Accessed on 11 March 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/gold-flags-hung-by-artist-priyageetha-dia-removed-after-10065998