The experience of belonging to two or more countries is an increasingly universal one, especially for Australians. An affiliation with multiple cultures and an identity formed by multiple traditions is, after all, the migrant experience. It is a theme that has been widely explored across the arts spectrum, yet rarely with as much playfulness as in the work of Thai-Australian ceramicist Vipoo Srivilasa. His new exhibition Everyday Shrines, shown at Gippsland Art Gallery as part of Craft Victoria’s Craft Forward series, takes an impish yet thoughtful approach to fusing the imagery and iconography of Australian and Thai societies.
Srivilasa’s porcelain figurines represent, he says, “a mixture of cultures within me that comes out through my hands.”
These charming pieces depict a number of strange, mysterious characters, some anthropomorphic and some quasi-mythic, decorated with a variety of colours and patterns, suggestive of traditional Buddhist art, high camp, and the elaborate visuals of Studio Ghibli films.
Floral designs are a constant, while Srivilasa continues to explore the possibilities of his signature blue and white scheme, a combination that reflects his having a proverbial foot in two nations.
“Blue and white ceramics originated in China and were exported to Europe,” says Melbourne-based Srivilasa, who was born in Bangkok and has lived in Australia since 1997. “This parallels my immigration from Thailand to Australia, from East to West.”
Everyday Shrines asks the question: what would it look like if Thai superstitions and rituals were applied to Australia’s national icons? So Srivilasa has produced a lavishly decorated model of a kangaroo, Beckoning Kangaroo, 2018. Here he reimagines the animal as a talisman for good luck in the manner of the Thai Beckoning Lady, who features in the exhibition. He has also recreated Ned Kelly’s helmet in The Next Super Hero, 2018.
“If Ned Kelly were Thai he would be the biggest deity ever,” says Srivilasa.
“People would give flowers, pay respects, leave food and ask for blessings, as he is a legend in a mythical story. He would become the deity of the outlaw, people would carry a Ned Kelly amulet so they could fight the police better.”
Another recent success for Srivilasa was his being awarded the 2018 National Sports Museum (NSM) Basil Sellers Creative Arts Fellowship, a program designed to increase public appreciation and understanding of Australia’s sporting heritage through the arts.
Srivilasa receives $50,000 and will embark on a fellowship project entitled Trophy in which he will hold public workshops for NSM visitors, who will create drawings of trophies they might give to their sporting heroes or simply people in their lives. Srivilasa will then create his own ceramic work inspired by these drawings. The twice-daily public workshops will take place at the NSM from Monday 9 April to Friday 13 April, at 1:00pm and 2:30pm.
“What is the meaning of trophies, and why do people like to have them?” Srivilasa asks. “Is it always about winning and losing? Why does it have to look like it does, can it be something else?”
While Trophy will engage with Australian sporting culture and its preoccupation with winning, the overarching aesthetic will remain close to that of Everyday Shrines. As the artist says, “My work will always be fun, happy and beautiful.”
Gippsland Art Gallery
31 March – 17 June
National Sports Museum
9 April – 13 April, 1pm and 2.30pm daily