As every good humanities student knows, phallic symbols can be found in just about anything. Our western society, with its manufactured masculinity, is no stranger to penis extensions (#GunCulture #SkyScrapers #MidLifeCrisisSportsCars). In his solo art show One Hung Bitch, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran uses no innuendo in his discussion of gender, sexuality, colonialism and power politics. His work reclaims phallic imagery from its use as a Eurocentric and patriarchal power symbol. The exhibition ran at the Kudos Gallery Paddington from 15th – 26th April, and showcased just some of Nithiyendran’s extensive collection of works, which explore alternate modes of meaning making that subvert the white heteronormative framework.
Throughout the impressive collection of painting, sculpture and ceramic works in One Hung Bitch, Nithiyendran sustains a consistent aesthetic of bright psychedelic colours, glossy surfaces, oozing organic forms and, of course, the penis motif. His work creates a dialogue with Ancient art in which phallic symbols were used to represent fertility. Here, Nithiyendran explores mythical possibilities of fertility that exist outside and beyond the heteronormative default.
His work shows a naïve childlike innocence in both style and theme with a whimsical sense of humor that preserves the pieces from being merely seen as grotesque. Playful phallic-shaped characters come to life with expressive faces. These characters are reminiscent of Jean Michel Basquait’s abstract figuration, managing to look both surreal and grounded in a corporeal reality. It is this use of humor that gives the exhibition it’s accessibility and thus it’s power. In the collection he combines phallic and fecal imagery as a cheeky wink at homophobic assumptions about queer male sexuality. Nithiyendran’s fine craftsmanship really comes to the forefront here with ceramic turds so sleek and polished that they invite the viewer’s gaze a little longer than is comfortable.
Nithiyendran’s attention to detail and considered presentation in the exhibition is the icing on the cake and reflects just how layered his process is. With the gallery walls painted black and positioned in a ‘T’ formation he creates the sight gag of a big black cock, cementing his celebration of queer and culturally diverse spaces. The works were arranged in a scattered yet highly thought through manner. While some works took their expected places upon plinths and wall mounting others were leant casually on the floor against the walls. His toying with the format of the gallery was further evident in the range of materials used for plinths. These spanned from the classic white wood, to an almost garish mirror plinth upon which a gold melting phallic sculpture was sat, to found items such as Styrofoam, bricking, cardboard and rock. This positioning of alien materials side by side is a running theme in his work that manages to be simultaneously cute, mischievous, beautiful and vulgar.
One of the most unique voices within the Sydney contemporary art world, Nirthiyendran’s work leaves you feeling as though you’ve just seen Mickey Mouse have a wank yet somehow have had your perceptions of gender, race and sexuality subtly yet irrevocably penetrated.
Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran is represented by Gallery 9.
His work can be viewed at http://www.ramesh-nithiyendran.com/