Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran Untitled figure 12 2016 - Ian Potter Museum of Art

Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran plays upon the symbolic and transformative qualities of clay to create iconoclastic sculptures that push the boundaries of figurative sculpture and the ceramic medium. Combining Hindu and Christian symbolism with the subversive imagery of internet memes, his distinctive characters act as avatars through which to explore gender and eroticism, religion and popular culture, exoticism and outsider aesthetics.

Untitled figure 12 was first shown in the 2017 exhibition In the beginning at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. For this exhibition, Nithiyendran created an immersive environment populated by his distinctive clay sculptures in dialogue with objects selected from the Cultural Collections of the University of Melbourne. The artworks in this exhibition made reference to the long history of human representation in art and ritual: ancient fertility figures, the idealised youths of classical Greek and Roman pottery, the animal-human hybrids of Indian religious sculpture, the deconstructed ‘primitives’ of Art Brut and Cubism, and more recently, the luridly colourful figures of animation and the hyper-sexualisation of bodies in pornography.

In Nithiyendran’s work, the body is distorted and exaggerated; some figures are missing key body parts, while on others they proliferate in a comical disregard for anatomical exactitude. Male and female characteristics combine in gender-fluid figures who wear their ambiguity proudly. Nithiyendran’s sculptures are unapologetically, joyously corporeal, yet they are impossible to categorise or label. Their subversion of realistic form and proportion represent a rejection of normative definitions of cultural and sexual identity.

Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, Untitled figure 12 2016, installation view at Arts West, Level 2 Photograph: Peter King

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