Melbourne’s Ian Potter Museum of Art has been taken over by a mishmash of phalluses, graffiti and religious iconography.
It’s all the work of young Sri Lankan-Australian artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, who is showcasing 16 of his unique, post modern sculptures in a three-month long installation, running until early 2017.
Mixed in among some of the museum’s historical artifacts and set against a brightly coloured backdrop covered in spray painted nudes, Ramesh's bronze and ceramic pieces explore some of Australia’s religious and multicultural experiences while espousing themes of eroticism, creation and life in the age of the Internet.
Religion, culture and iconography
While Ramesh identifies as an atheist, his art explores religion from a cultural perspective and widely incorporates ideas and “figures that I’ve idolised or worshiped across cultures”. A lot of this is drawn from his own family upbringing.
“My mum’s Catholic and dad’s Hindu so I grew up being exposed to both of these religions,” he tells SBS.
“With Christianity, [I use] the idea of earth and clay as really generative materials from the Genesis story of creating Adam out of the earth out of clay.
“For me, it seemed like the perfect material to explore Western ideas around the body, creation, gender and sexuality because it’s steeped in this very loaded history in Christianity.”
Meanwhile from a Hindu perspective, Ramesh focuses on the representation of Lord Shiva, one of three gods responsible for the creation, preservation and destruction of the universe.
“In Hinduism, Lord Shiva is often worshiped by this kind of phallic stone structure called a Shiva Lingam, which is pretty much just a phallus,” he explains, “and the way it’s presented is often in the context of this concave base which is meant to be a kind of vaginal reference”.
“It’s all about unity and what struck me about that Hindu form of worship was that it didn’t seem very patriarchal or misogynistic.”
Born in Colombo, Ramesh migrated to Australia with his family at the age of one, and believes his work, like his cultural identity, is a hybrid one.
“I think what happens with this migrant experience is that the kids will often become reflective of the place they grow up,” he says, “[But] I think politically it’s important for people to explore their cultural roots and put them at the forefront, especially with this wave of nationalism that’s happening around the world.”
Narcissism, phallus-worshiping and the Internet
While much of Ramesh’s work is built around long-held religious ideas, it is grounded in the modern context of the Internet age.
He feels this ties in nicely as, “you can look at the Internet as this phallus-worshiping domain where there’s just porn everywhere”.
“The world now is highly sexualised: we’ve got a lot of sexual imagery going on, we’ve got porn that kids are looking at from a really young age,” he says.
That theme is also integrated with modern ideas of worship, self-worship and narcissism that come with the generation of social media-obsessed youth.
As a result, self-portraits feature heavily among Ramesh’s work, as well as his Instagram handle “Rams_deep69”, both of which he describes as “all a bit tongue in cheek, a bit self-debasing”.
Positioning himself as a “pseudo creator spirit”, he looks at his art as a post-modern concoction of objects from our increasingly globalised and online world.
“It’s almost as if we were to create the world now, what would this scene look like?” he muses.
Ramesh’s exhibition In The Beginning will be running at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at Melbourne University until 26 February next year.