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Terracotta figure 34, from the installation Avatar towers



Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran

Sri Lanka, Australia

1988 –

Alternate image of Terracotta figure 34 by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran
Alternate image of Terracotta figure 34 by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran
Alternate image of Terracotta figure 34 by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran
Alternate image of Terracotta figure 34 by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran
  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    26.8 x 14.0 x 15.0 cm
    Purchased with funds provided by the Mollie Douglas Bequest Fund with the support of Bella and Tim Church 2021
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Rising more than five metres in the Gallery’s historic sandstone vestibule is a raw wooden structure that is 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. Created especially for the Gallery’s ‘Archie Plus’ project, to welcome visitors back to the Gallery following the COVID-19 shutdown in mid-2020. Avatar towers is a monumental tableau of some 67 bronze and clay figures rendered in Nithiyendran’s recognisable maximalist aesthetic.

    Even for viewers unaware that ‘Avatar Towers’ was created to lift the spirits amidst the challenges of COVID-19, the work’s raucous and celebratory spirit is evident. This imaginary community, far from being inward or self-involved, engages directly (look at all those staring eyes) with gallery-goers. Though the work is filled with Nithiyendran’s trademark humour, it also poses a serious question: If art museums are indeed our contemporary sacred spaces, or at least spaces of shelter and solace, then what kind of deities or sacred beings should stand guard or welcome viewers at their entries?

    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 fabulously 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 lusciously 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 violent social divisions, a suggestion about togetherness – proposing that the best and most vital communities are those that prize energy over purity. Of course, this joyful noise is not without its ominous undernotes. Nithiyendran has noted how the manic smiles of his figures can seem to disguise anxiety and uncertainty.

Other works by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran

See all 70 works