South / East Interference Vol. 2



Ramesh Mario Nithyendran  |  Jumaadi  |  Chayni Henry  |  Val Wens  |  Gunybi Ganambarr | Dadang Christanto

15 December - 9 February 2019

Official opening Friday 14 December 6pm

The second edition of South/East Interferrence brings together a diverse group of mid career artists working around themes of personal identity and redefining and re imagining cultural heritage and storytelling.

Sydney and Jogja based Jumaadi presents his contemporary shadow puppets which are tools to convey the quotidian, the traditional and the contemporary.

Sydney based Indonesian artist Val Wens uses performance and documentary photography to critique contemporary Indonesian identity.

Darwin based Chayni Henry brings her diary style chronicled experience to life with new works and Gunybi Ganambarr presents traditional Yolngu stories and art making techniques to the most contemporary of materials which hold up current land use politics and controversy around mining in Northern Australia.

Ramesh Mario Nithyendran's monumental 'Mud Men' completes the exhibition, built on an attitude of agitation, and ostentatious in style, the sculptures of Ramesh Nithiyendran appear to strut and shout, Look at me! I'm raw and garish. I'm atheist, Hindu, Christian, feminist, queer and gender fluid. I'm exotic and everyday. Reactions to his installations run the gamut of emotive spectatorship, from fits of giggles, wonderment and critical celebration to rankle and disgust.

Dadang Christanto is an internationally acclaimed Indonesian artist whose painting and installation practice honours the victims of crimes against humanity.


Artists’ Stories in Metaphor & Materials

by Dr. Andrew Frost


For South/East Interference Volume II a collection of work has been brought together from a range of artists for whom the story of their subjective response to the world lies at the heart of their art making.  The work resonates with shared themes of personal identity, and a redefining and re-imagining of cultural heritage, while bearing, quite literally, the traces of the artist’s hand, and through an act of viewing on the part of the audience, a transition from intention into a realisation of meaning.

The work of artists Val Wens and Chayni Henry represent widely divergent yet complimentary ways of creating art. For the Jakarta-born, Sydney-based Wrens, a gay Javanese man who was brought up in a household that was both Christian and Muslim, the metaphor of balancing – literally holding up everyday objects such as a bottle, or red and black squares – serves as potent metaphors for maintaining an identity in a landscape that’s in both literal and metaphorical states of transformation.  

Henry, an artist from South Australia now resident in Darwin, produces portraits of the good, the bad and the infamous – politicians and criminals, from ex-prime ministers Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard, to convicted felons Schapelle Corby and Ronald Ryan. Henry records her often-hilarious observations of these characters in her inimitable handwriting, blocks of writing below head and shoulder portraits, texts that are frank and forthright, yet often compassionate and kind. Despite Wens and Henry’s seemingly disparate art, both evoke a sense of narrative, drawing on their subjective responses to make sense of, and comment on the external world.

Jumaadi, also from Jakarta and now Sydney-based, produces art in a wide range of media including watercolours and painting, sculpture, installation and performances. His work has been described as dream like – his images suggesting the logic of the unconscious – and his wall works feature figures with multiple sets of eyes and limbs in casual encounters, their bodies and their functions and purposes all mixed up and confused, yet seemingly calm and serene. The suite of paintings on clipboards coalesce from abstraction into a landscape with text, a tantalising fragment of poetry. The painted fans suggest a similar kind of transformation, their fragments of human bodies and limbs within summery landscapes of trees and clouds, are wry and captivating worlds within seemingly delicate objects. For Jumaadi, the self is the source of the story, with all its longing, need and beauty.

Born into the Ngaymil clan in Yirrkala in north-eastern Arnhem Land, Yolngu artist Gunybi Ganambarr produces art that comes from a specific place and time, the works drawing on the traditional forms produced by his community, mentors and elders, translating those forms via contemporary materials into statements about heritage, culture and land. Ganambarr’s work is noted for his use of steel and iron, seen in this exhibition in the metal plate, incised with traditional patterning on its bright surface forming a kind of flag or banner, while his etchings literally inscribe the dual moieties [social/ritual groups] of Yolngu culture into metal and then on to paper.  Where the industrial practices of Western culture have wrought great change in Australia, and particularly in the mining around the artist’s home, the artist’s canny use of materials transforms mere method into rich metaphor.

The Sri Lankan-born, Sydney-resident Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran makes works that are exultant shouts of joy into the world. Nithiyendran’s sculptures, installations and ceramics play with scale and materials becoming, as the artist puts it, explorations of the “…politics of sex, the monument, gender and religion”. Drawing on a philosophy that fuses Christianity and Hinduism with atheism and a queer/feminist identity, Nithiyendran’s work is often grand in scale, constructed from brightly coloured and painted earthenware, festooned with jewellery, and other objects, or smaller scale works sometimes in gold-plated bronzes. The artist exaggerates and amplifies the signifiers of gender, with comically giant phalluses or breasts, and matted fake hair in a variety of colours. The story of Nithiyendran’s work is an ecstatic self-realisation that accepts the ugly and beautiful absurdities of the human condition, its votive practices and contradictory passions.

Like Nithiyendran’s art, there is a recurring set of motifs and forms in Dadang Christanto’s work, notably severed heads, blood red tears, and bodies in apparent pain and suffering. The artist, now resident in Brisbane, was born in Indonesia and witnessed first hand the country’s tumultuous modern political history - Christanto’s father was ‘disappeared’ for his communist sympathies and his body was never found.  Drawing in part on that experience, the artist’s work in painting, sculpture and installation conveys an acute sense of anguish, death and torture as his recurring subjects. But the work has a mythical quality that renders a personal story universal, as at home in a church, mosque or temple, as it is in a contemporary art gallery.

South/East Interference Volume II isn’t presenting stories with definitive endings. They are stories in progress, small moments in the long narrative arc that unfolds in real time over the course of an artist’s career. The show instead presents vivid moments of lives in progress, the thematic unity of this collective self-expression drawing together a web of connecting ideas, approaches and themes. Like many good stories, it also has a message: none of us are alone.


Dr. Andrew Frost is the art critic for Guardian Australia and a regular columnist for Art Guide Australia.