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Artist Profile3
A dynanic Indian artist who strives to archive the times
Some of artist Riyas Komu’s most significant works like his ‘Petro Angel’ series showcased at the prestigious Venice Biennale have been inspired by Iranian cinema. His portraits often carry certain geographical specificities. For example, it is possible to trace the history of the Iranian woman in his critically lauded work that focuses on her face, telling a tale of of fear and suffering in a wider human context.

Riyas Komu has been using current political scenarios that center around Iran as a source of inspiration for his recent series. Elaborating on his artistic inspiration, he reveals in an interview: “I happen to watch a lot of Iranian cinema. A film about the suppression faced by females there deeply impacted me. But the same chauvinistic tendencies can be witnessed and similar agony can be experienced in any part of the globe. Terror, war, chaos, chauvinism, and exploitation cut across regions and races. When I depict them in my work, I am sharing these things at a universal level.”

Further outlining his philosophy and practice, he states: “As an artist, I like to set an agenda, and then be driven by it. My thought processes guide me, and not the style or the medium.” His new set of works, after having been unveiled to art lovers in Tehran, will be showcased in Mumbai later this year. It comprises sculptures that are truly monumental in scale. Also noteworthy for the usage of carved wood, they tend to stray between a curiously mystical place of gothic pedagogy where signs and power cause a heady mix, apparently suggestive of knowledge in a fixed monumental strait, and certain plays with the effects of a raging realm in the 20th and 21st century. Uma Nair mentions in a review essay how ferment of war and its catharsis provides the artist with his subjects.

The renowned critic notes: “The artist in him is always questioning. He plays the observer as well as the participant often mulling on the elegiac, the elusive and the emblematic to make sure that his aesthetic scheme delivers. What then ensues is a resonant requiem, as one tries to explore the incisive thought, which goes into the creation of each art work. Installations in his psyche have been invariably molded more in the legion of the epitaph.” It fulfills two motives. Grievous faults and events are elucidated artistically, and so also one’s contemporary experience of them.

A case in point is his ‘Safe to Light’ that underlines the importance of the ordinary to restore the organic stability of the countries constantly facing the looming threat of terror. As suggested in its title, the installation questions the notion of exchange – and also as what has made it safe and why it’s safe for it to light now, something quite pertinent in terms of the way drinking water itself has become a politicized topic and also in terms of territorial control, particularly in the Middle-East region. His ‘Blood Brothers’, casted in aluminum, is a large work that has 196 pieces in it. Straddling both sculpture and a drawing, it refers to internal conflicts, among the most complex issues to fathom and resolve in this region. On the other hand, his painting ‘Haleema’ is a strong argument for the precious freedom of speech.

In fact, Riyas Komu has been greatly influenced by the subject of freedom. ‘The Petro Angel’, as mentioned above, is inspired by Jaffer Panahi’s film ‘Circle’ that amplifies the plight of hapless women in Tehran. The filmmaker’s ‘Panahi’ has also influenced and inspired a work, titled ‘Offside’. It deals with the popular game of football, revolving around five young girls, whereas ‘Fragrance of a Funeral’ touches upon the ceremonial rituals that follows death. A curatorial note explains: “Based on the impression of a table surface, it holds a similar potential for its reading as a setting for discussions, of a place to hover around. It relies on the dip of the table remains without a set of its front legs, thus bowing like a camel sipping from a pond. The work, a cross between a table and a funeral pyre or even a forensic table, has multiple meanings.”

Shaheen Merali underlines the fact that ‘Safe to Light’ is a set of reminiscences of fear and omission, the work is a weapon, an ode to weapons and castration, in reproducing the existing orders in fascinating twists. The curator quips: “It’s a reminder that so many places and so much time have been involved in sheer brutality that now we seem to be tied to a future by a shared histories of violence and violation, that seems to guide us to an ever more dangerous future.”

Riyas Komu’s powerful oeuvre not only archives the times, but also reflects our immediate concerns – both localized and globalized. It is a striking reflection on the contemporary condition, and often appears to be a multiple space in which we are left grasping the moment, in order to release results or meaning.