Darya Diamond: Pretend You Are an American Cowgirl and You Love Me

15 March - 20 April 2024 The Box

Pippy Houldsworth Gallery is delighted to present a site-specific installation by London-based Mexican-American artist Darya Diamond in its micro project space, The Box. Comprising a cast cowboy hat resting on a pair of votive candles and set against a dark wood veneer, Pretend You Are an American Cowgirl and You Love Me (2024) explores conceptions of fantasy, care, and authenticity.


Across her multidisciplinary practice, which includes sculpture, print, sound, and film, Diamond conceives of the body as a ‘primordial workplace’, often through the prism of sex work and other forms of invisible labour. As is common in the artist’s practice, the cowboy hat in Pretend You Are an American Cowgirl and You Love Me is a reproduction of a prop Diamond employed during sex work, here cast in jesmonite and subtly treated before being block-printed with photographic images. These reproductive and repetitive processes are not mere necessities of production for Diamond. The labour, attention, and care required are imbued with meaning, and with connection, as though recreating a dynamic of intimate transaction between the viewer and the artwork.


This atmosphere of transactional intimacy is echoed in the personal imagery printed on the hat, which includes a pornographic film still featuring the artist, alongside an image of La Santa Muerte, the Mexican folk saint rejected by the Catholic Church that has become a figure of great import to those living on the margins, such as drug traffickers, polleros, misfits, and sex workers. Shrines to the saint are marked by the offerings adherents leave in return for safety—money, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs—in a form of spiritual transaction not dissimilar to that of sex work.


There is, however, a tension between the intimacy of care and the performance of fantasy in the work, where symbols of Americana—the cowboy hat and the votive candles dedicated to another folk saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe—speak to the exotification of the artist’s Mexican-American heritage. Along with the wooden veneer lining The Box, this represents what Diamond calls the ‘synthesis of authenticity’, where the sex worker becomes a constantly shifting Foucauldian ‘heterotopia’ for the client, an illicit space of illusion and compensation removed from the public sphere. In this way, Pretend You Are an American Cowgirl and You Love Me functions as a portrait of an event that ‘never happened’. Like the evacuated space within the candles, whose prior burning implies some ritual or event that remains unseen, the emptiness of the hat echoes the invisible labour and care invested in such an interaction, the sweat and emotion that might subtly nourish bodies alienated by the social relations of capitalism.


Darya Diamond (b. 1991, Bay Area, CA) lives and works in London, UK. She holds an MFA from Goldsmiths, London, a BA from Hampshire College, Amherst, MA, and postgraduate fellowship from the University of Zurich. Solo exhibitions include Primordial Workplace, Sebastian Gladstone, Los Angeles, CA (2022); Invites: Darya Diamond, Zabludowicz Collection, London (2022); Judgement Proof, Piloto Pardo, London (2021); and My Mother the Doctor, leiminspace, Los Angeles, CA (2017). Recent group exhibitions include Sparkle, hotel room in Black Diamond, Alberta, Canada (2022-23); Hungry Heart, Piloto Pardo at Claas Reiss, London (2022); Rabbit Hole, F Magazine, Houston, TX (2021); Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2021, South London Gallery, London (2021); MeatSpace, The Koppel Project, London (2021); Redirecting, Tree Art Museum, Beijing (2021); London Grads Now, Saatchi Gallery, London (2020); Pou sou Nefko Pou Paeis, koraï, Cyprus (2020); and The one that never arrived, SB34 The Pool, Brussels (2019), amongst others. Diamond’s work has been featured in publications including Artforum, Émergent Magazine, Rub Magazine, and F Magazine, amongst others. Diamond has been awarded Bloomberg’s New Contemporaries Selection (2021); the Frans Masereel Centrum, Emgerging Artist Scholarship (2020); the International Ceramic Institute Scholarship Award (2017); and the Harris-Veit Artists Grant (2013). Residencies include Frans Mansereel Centrum, Kasterlee, Belgium (2021); School of Commons, Zurich, Switzerland (2020); International Ceramics Studio, Kecskemét, Hungary (2017); and Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT (2016).