In this interview, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran meditates on how his work has evolved since his mentorship, how working and exhibiting in the Asia-Pacific region has shaped his studio practice, and whether he still considers himself an emerging artist.

My mentorship experience was unique. It was the first time I embedded myself in a learning context where the primary focus was clay. I studied painting and drawing at university and learned skills with ceramic media independently during my Masters.

The Beyond Limitations program provided a context for medium-specific learning in the Clayarch Gimhae Museum. The studio in this context was the stuff dreams are made of… massive kilns, open space and (literally) tonnes of clay! Vipoo was also heaps of fun and generous with his knowledge. We laughed and ate a lot together.

While I did learn a great deal of technical skills which I have embedded in my work, being in Korea aided in understanding the conceptual and historical foundations of the material (clay). In the West, there seems to be a bit of fetishizing of ‘Eastern’ ceramic traditions. Especially within ‘ceramic communities. I was careful not to engage in this way. Interestingly, the experience also allowed me to realise that I don’t particularly want to be a ‘ceramic artist’ or be bound by any medium. I’m more interested in ideas. This thinking has led me the most to where I am at the moment in my studio practice.

How has your practice evolved since receiving a Cultural Trust grant? Has the focus of your work shifted?

My practice has evolved dramatically (or at least, I think it has). I’ve started to really think outside ideas of ‘ceramics’ or ‘sculpture’ and tried to present challenging, experiential works. Materially, I’ve created installations incorporating neon, bronze casting, wall-painting, concrete and unfired clay. I’ve also worked creatively with cultural collections as a form of expression. This is something I really want to pursue further. Conceptually, I’ve become more interested in multi-gendered symbolism in contexts of religion and mythology and the aesthetics of museum practice.  

Did your understanding of your practice grow through placing it in an international context? If so, how?

I could meditate upon this question for a while. The short answer is, definitely. Exhibiting in multiple contexts in the Asia-Pacific (Taiwan, Korea, Bangladesh, Singapore, and Hong Kong to name a few) was transformative and continues to shape my studio practice. Australia is in a unique geographical and cultural position. Looking closer, towards Asia (rather than Europe or America) has been really fruitful as I attempt to understand my work in a global context. I’ve really enjoyed learning about the complex histories of these places. Personally and perhaps biographically, it’s been incredibly productive to position my work in contexts where whiteness isn’t a dominating paradigm. At times, I feel like my work is engaged with overseas in more complex terms for this reason.

Detail some career and creative highlights since receiving a Cultural Trust grant.

The period following receiving a Cultural Trust grant was quite intense. In 2016, I presented a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia and a solo exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. I also participated in the 2016 Kuandu Biennale in Taipei and the 2016 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art. Immediately after, I presented a large-scale installation at Carriageworks for the 2017 edition of The National. More recently, I created a large-scale installation which was co-commissioned by Artspace, Sydney and The Samdani Art Foundation, Bangldesh. The work featured in the 2018 Dhaka Art Summit and then travelled to the Encounters Sector of Art Basel Hong Kong. Creatively, I’ve felt tremendously privileged to develop monumental work and have institutional support to present them to the public.

Would you still define yourself an emerging artist?

It’s an interesting question. I wouldn’t call myself emerging in a local/national context. I have works in major public collections and have presented solo, institutional exhibitions. I’d use the term ‘early career’ as working within the first 5 or 6 years of my practice. With this said, I’m increasingly exhibiting overseas and feel comfortable describing myself as ‘emerging’ on the international scene.

What are you currently working on? What is coming up next for you?

I have just presented a solo exhibition at Sullivan + Strumpf, Singapore in addition to some work for the Indian Ceramics Triennale, Jaipur and a group show at Campbelltown Arts Centre. I’m looking forward to some research and development time in the process of making work for 2019. 2019 includes a solo exhibition at Casula Powerhouse, a two person show with Renee So for the Perth International Arts Festival and an installation for the Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace in Jaipur.