Mechelle Bounpraseuth’s ceramics tenderly pay homage to her domestic life in suburban South Western Sydney as the child of Southeast Asian refugees.

Words: Lucia Nguyen

Mechelle Bounpraseuth’s home studio is currently nursing one plump, rosy-cheeked baby: a sculpted Mae Ploy sweet chilli sauce bottle, which Bounpraseuth lays a maternal hand on as she carries me in on her laptop. Nearby, an oversized replica of Healthy Boy thin soy sauce dribbles a streak of soy from its lip. The artist’s upcoming show at Chalk Horse, Sydney, references her 2019 My Parents come from Lao, The Land of Condiments, a series of glazed earthenware sauce bottles playfully modelled on those shelved in her Lao parents’ kitchen, and at the Asian grocery store she used to visit in Bonnyrigg, New South Wales. 

Bounpraseuth’s oeuvre pays homage to the garnishings of domestic life in suburban South Western Sydney, a space organised along the vectors of its predominantly migrant working class communities. As daughters of refugees from neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, Bounpraseuth’s ceramics take on the shape of the same mainstays that decorated my own childhood: a beckoning bag of Nongshim onion flavoured rings; a gleaming bottle of Squid brand fish sauce; a Nescafé jar painted with the charred grains of her dad’s khao khua. In All You Can Eat Baby, 2018, a vintage Chinese mun shou plate is laden with fried trappings from the local Westfield buffet. A pigeon is wreathed in a crust of bread in Breadington, 2018, while an ibis fishes through fast food in Late Night Maccas Run with Bae, 2018. Things that typically go unnoticed comprise Bounpraseuth’s visual language, re-instilled with tenderness in their making. 

She tries to steer clear of the word nostalgia when referring to her work. “Nostalgia is a romanticised idea of the past, and I don’t want to go back there,” she admits. Rather than a return, food grants passage for moving forward, for healing from the inherited trauma of migration and survival. 

In playing with scale, Bounpraseuth’s sensitive sculptures reciprocate a migrant parent’s modality of care; one that is implicit in action rather than words, stirred into the dipping sauces and slow-cooked bone broths that Bounpraseuth gestures to in Land of Condiments. “Every bottle, every jar reminds me of them,” she says. 

The former Fisher’s Ghost Sculpture Prize winner is part of collections at Artbank, Sydney, the National Gallery of Australia and the National Library of Australia, both in Canberra.

Relinquishing control to the kiln offers Bounpraseuth catharsis. “I want to feel connected. I want to feel understood. I want to feel seen,” says the artist, whose ceramics grant the perishable a renewed life of joyful permanence. Bounpraseuth generously plates up, and asks us to take comfort in her bounty.  

Featured Image: Mechelle Bounpraseuth, Squid Brand Fish Sauce Pot on Milk Crates, 2022. Glazed earthenware, 12 x 12 x 145cm; (right) Maggi is not Soy Sauce Pot on Milk Crate, 2022. Glazed earthenware, 12 x 12 x 109cm. Courtesy: the artist and
Chalk Horse, Sydney.

This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 100, April – June 2022. 

To listen to a reading of the feature click the audio link below. Read by: Lucia Nguyen – Freelance writer and gallery assistant at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, 2022.


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