Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran’s ceramic idols come to Tramway

By Erin Doak

Idols of Mud and Water at Tramway presents Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran’s work in his first solo exhibition in the UK

Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran’s art is a much-needed antidote to the gloom of winter in Glasgow. Idols of Mud and Water, his installation currently on display at Tramway, is an amalgamation of colourful, eccentric sculptures within a ramshackle dreamlike setting – what Nithiyendran calls a “buzzing mythological playground”. Visitors can walk up a ramp into a raised shed made from wood and found materials, which houses dozens of terracotta figures decorated with gold accents. A few metres away, a monstrous, looming mud figure rises out of a pool of water. Strips of bright neon lights hang over its head and limbs, overlapping the raw materials of contemporary and ancient cultures. More sculptures made from ceramic and bronze are dispersed around the rest of the space, elaborately adorned figures with multiple heads and brightly-coloured glazes.

A Sri Lankan-born artist who grew up in Australia, Nithiyendran’s sculptures draw from South Asian mythological imagery, his zoomorphic figures recalling ancient idols and deities. But they also connect these age-old images with the contemporary world through a mish-mash of influences; according to Nithiyendran, he’s particularly drawn to cultural phenomena like emojis, pop stars, and “the really flat way in which, as contemporary creators and consumers of culture, we consume imagery of things that are alive.” Humans’ worship of idols and images throughout history is a central theme in the show, highlighting the persisting power that images hold in society.

This is Nithiyendran’s first solo show in the UK. In an interview he said he was initially drawn to Tramway because of its architecture; located in an old renovated tram station, it has kept its industrial feel by retaining many of its original features, including its large open spaces and tramtrack floors. Far from the white cube art space, it also regularly hosts performance art, theatre, events and workshops. Tramway’s atypicality as an art space makes it the perfect location to bring out some of the key elements in Nithiyendran’s work, from the importance of theatricality and movement to the blending of cultures, eras and influences to his multi-gendered or genderless figures. 

Drawing from a wide range of inspirations, Idols of Mud and Water resists singular interpretation. The works displayed suggest the complex ways in which cultures and perspectives cross over in a world that is increasingly interconnected, playing with the visual language and material elements of disparate histories and places. Most of all, they feel celebratory and joyous, and it’s hard to leave the exhibition feeling worse than when you went in. Anyone looking for a moment of respite this winter should head directly to Idols of Mud and Water; it’s sure to raise their spirits.

Idols of Mud and Water is on display at Tramway until 21 April 2024 and is free to enter.


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