I just found another member of my tribe
Primarily working in ceramics, a medium experiencing a significant renaissance in Australia, Nithiyendran’s renegade practice is populated with phallic totems and deities, anthropomorphic creatures and strangely abject monsters that reference and subvert the iconography of religion, art history, popular culture, porn and the internet. He relates the materiality of clay as a return to the trace of the artist’s hand in the production of art and also as bound within a mythologised tradition of creation. “If we locate ceramics in Christian discourse as clay, it’s God literally making man with his hands. In the West at least, there is an idea that clay is present in every body and that with anything ceramic, the sense of the hand is amplified.”
For one so young, Nithiyendran is clearly an artist over-ripe with ideas and how they connect to materials, process, creation and display. His work to date delights in different ways: some are frank penis-obsessed eruptions of a young artist’s ambition and bravado; others are more subtle, with sly humour that draw you in with their bling but leave you with a sting
Given that you have recently catapulted onto a much bigger stage career wise, with a broader audience base, have you noticed different reactions to your work?
I’ve had it censored and dismissed as rude, funny or coarse. Although, I do not represent penetration [in my artwork] and many of the phalli I portray are abstracted in style or are flaccid. Any artist, especially those dealing with loaded imagery, will receive varying responses. Yet, I hope it comes across that the phalli I portray are rhetorical. They are used as anchor points to initiate discussions of various themes (such as masculinity, colonialism and fertility, among others). That said, I see art as being fundamentally about the audience. I try to reject the exclusivity I believe is synonymous with much of the contemporary art I encounter, and instead provide a rich, visual experience for the audience.
Conceptually, one new development is that I am shifting my work to create a critical dialogue with modernism—a key movement in Western art history. I’m referencing the work of Picasso and researching and the African masks [that he used as inspiration] in his paintings. This provides a fertile ground in which I am able to anchor my discussions around cultural appropriation, and explore Western constructions of the “primitive” and the idea of the” modern male master.” I’m also exploring the traditional craft of Sri Lankan mask-making. Furthermore, my references to Hindu mythology are also expanding, as I’ve been focusing some of my work on the incredible figure of Kali. She is a Hindu goddess with a belt of broken limbs and a necklace of severed heads. Ideas around the fragment and the ruin are also taking form in these new bodies of work.