by Art Gallery of New South Wales
In 2020 visitors to the Art Gallery of New South Wales were greeted by a raw wooden structure rising more than five metres which was home to dozens of exuberantly grinning and grimacing ceramic and bronze beings. Titled Avatar Towers, this structure and its denizens are the work of Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, a Sri Lankan-born Sydney sculptor, ceramicist and painter. A raucous and celebratory installation that showcases Nithiyendran's maximalist aesthetic, it was created especially for the Gallery’s ‘Archie Plus’ project, to welcome visitors back to the Gallery following the COVID-19 shutdown in mid-2020.
Fascinated by syncretism and the strange and surprising visual forms it generates, Nithiyendran drew inspiration for Avatar Towers from the Gallery’s own collection of south and southeast Asian historical sculptures.He has also mentioned the impact on him, as a child, of richly embellished Hindu temple interiors. An ‘avatar’ in Hinduism is a worldly and material incarnation of a deity. But here, as in earlier sculptures, Nithiyendran presses playfully at the meanings of the word, hinting, through the presence of his own features in some of the sculptures, that the works are avatars of their maker -- projections of Nithiyendran’s own spirit and energy into the glazed and bedazzled ‘mud’ that is his favoured medium.
The word ‘towers’ in Avatar Towers is important in this respect. While it alludes partly to sacred architectural structures, it also suggests an apartment block, a low-rise dwelling, a place where people live together. Though Nithiyendran does not see his art as overtly polemical, Avatar Towers does contain, in a year of marked social divisions, a suggestion about togetherness – proposing that the best and most vital communities are those that prize energy over purity. This joyful noise is not without its ominous undernotes, however. Nithiyendran has noted how the manic smiles of his figures can seem to disguise anxiety and uncertainty.