At first glance, Nika Dizon’s exhibition, “Safe Space,” could pass as a room inside The Dessert Museum. For her first solo show, the artist transforms part of the Kaida Contemporary Gallery into a banquet hall. At its center, the first to catch eyes is an untitled installation, a long, white-clothed table filled with all sorts of sweets—cakes, gelatin, popsicles, and lollipops.
According to Dizon, the idea was to present something that brings comfort and familiarity, “like a children’s party or a bakeshop display.” Indeed, with its endless supply of hyperrealistic treats, the exhibition pulls you into its seemingly “safe” space. At a closer look, however, the colorful resin sculptures reveal more of its ingredients, such as razor blades, knives, and cigarette butts. “At face value they seem harmless and even inviting, but they’re not good for you,” Dizon says.
In this exhibition, nothing is what it seems. In one of the cakes, Dizon scribbles “You only get worse every year!” mimicking warm dedications usually written using icing on birthday cakes. Here, however, “it’s like a slap in the face,” she says.
Furthermore, the installation, with its absurd extravagance, purports itself to be a critique of capitalism’s anarchy of production, highlighting the system’s volatile, chaotic nature and its tendency to overproduce. “I wanted to show a somewhat disgusting display of excess in my installation,” Dizon says. “Everything is commodified, and capitalist greed causes overproduction, and because of overproduction there’s an excess of goods in the market and yet they are also inaccessible to most people.” These anti-capitalist sentiments inform most the exhibition. “Safe Space” is Dizon’s attempt to illustrate what it is like to “live in the age of late capitalism,” which she aptly describes as a “dystopian hellscape.” Moreover, the works are deeply personal, referencing real life experiences, feelings, and traumas. “The cake in the middle of the table setting, the one with my face on it, signifies how I—both as a woman and an artist—am transformed into a commodity under the control of the patriarchy and capitalism,” she says. “It’s something someone close has said to me and it’s pretty much how macho-feudal society views women. Something to profit of or from until we lose our value as we age.”
Interestingly, the paintings surrounding the installation are unified through a recurring image of a woman, which appears to be a self-portrait. Each painting tries to open a discussion about pressing topics such as climate change, consumerism, abuse, class, and psychological distress.
‘You get worse every year.’
“My most recent work in the exhibit is the painting Class Picture, which is about students from different social classes in the time of COVID-19 and distance learning,” she says. “Not everyone is privileged enough to be able to afford what they need and some people even experience violence, especially in urban poor areas where homes are burned down, and everything’s made more difficult with a deadly virus just lurking around and the government offers no response to this pandemic.”
The paintings, with its surreal and macabre aspects, kind of remind you of the works of Frida Kahlo, from whom Dizon draws huge inspiration, not just in style, but also in politics. “My works are heavily inspired by Marxist ideology,” she says. “And this one Frida Kahlo quote which lives rent-free in my mind: ‘I’m convinced of my disagreement with the counterrevolution—imperialism—fascism—religions—stupidity—capitalism—and the whole gamut of bourgeois tricks—I wish to cooperate with the Revolution in transforming the world into a class-less one so that we can attain a better rhythm for the oppressed classes.’”
Ultimately, Dizon succeeds in presenting a horrifying picture of contemporary petit-bourgeois alienation under neoliberalism. But the scariest part cannot be pinpointed to a specific work or a particular element. The chilling effect, in my opinion, lies within the general feeling of hopelessness that plagues the exhibition.
And the exhibition note talks about this bleakness as well: “But in the end it all returns to one thing: our futile attempts at masking our miserableness by indulging in a plethora of somewhat inane lifestyles.” The solution, time and time again, is continued indulgence in commodity culture and sheer individualism with no end in sight. This reminds me of a quote from the late Mark Fisher’s “Capitalist Realism.” Following Slavoj Žižek’s notion on how cynicism appears to be the society’s prevailing ideology, Fisher wrote: “So long as we believe (in our hearts) that capitalism is bad, we are free to continue to participate in capitalist exchange.”
“Safe Space” runs until March 16 at the Kaida Contemporary Gallery located at 45 Scout Madriñan St., South Triangle, Quezon City; [email protected]; +6384635859 and +639279297129