Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran: genre-defying Sri-Lankan Australian contemporary artist
In this week’s episode of "Real STUFF” our host Hunter Johnson sits down with the highly sought-after contemporary artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran at the Sydney Opera House. During the podcast, Hunter and Ramesh explore various themes related to art, identity, and cultural values - and also high performance, and what it takes to succeed in the art world.
For those who may be unfamiliar, Ramesh is a Sri Lankan-Australian artist best known for his figurative ceramic practice. He came to Australia as a refugee when just a baby, and settled in suburban Sydney at a time when Pauline Hanson was a thing. Growing up in a new migrant context, Ramesh recalls refugees having to work much harder than other people just to exist.
Fast forward thirty-ish years, and Ramesh is insanely intelligent, curious, cheeky and determined - and somewhat of a national darling and rebel all at once. He has arguably reinvented sculpture in this country, and attracted a whole new audience to the art world through his wild, expressive work and ebullient personal style - but that didn’t all just happen.
”The reality to my life is very different to the public-facing image. I’m alone six days of the week, I’m one person in the studio, my Whatsapp is going off, I have no boundaries between my personal and professional life.”
Hunter and Ramesh talk about what it takes to be successful in the art world today, and draw comparisons to high performance athletes. It requires a shit tonne of dedication, sacrifice, entrepreneurial spirit and commercial realness to get to the top. And Ramesh does not shy at breaking stereotypes around what artists “should and should not” do, and doesn’t give a f*** what people say. “I don’t want to be a follower, I want to be a leader…I think if you want to make a change, you have to accept that you’ll be disliked by a group of people.”
Ramesh’s art itself often challenges traditional or mainstream beliefs and explores gender, politics, sex and religion. His bold, fantastical “idols” - who many would now describe as “iconic” sculptural works - have been exhibited all around the world and snapped up by major institutions. Having been a professional artist for 10 years, Ramesh has produced a profound body of work and last year published a monograph with Thames and Hudson featuring 500 of his artworks.
In Sydney and Singapore Ramesh is represented by Sullivan+Strumpf. Sign up for all the latest news and to be first to hear about his next show, or check out @ramesh__mario and @sullivanstrumpf. And take a listen to the pod!