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Artist Profile2
Dwelling upon schism between dreams and reality
Several artists like Andy Warhol have created works that dwell upon sports and their significance. He was particularly fascinated by football star Pele among many other sporting legends. Riyas Komu also loves football and footballers. But his heart goes to those unknown and unsung heroes of India, who never caught the public imagination and seldom got the recognition they perhaps deserved. Saddened by the sorry state of Indian football, he expresses his anguish through his art. He has to, because the artist does not consider himself a mere observer of things. “I am part of them, and responsible for them. As an artist, I like to set an agenda, and then be driven by it,” he asserts.

One among the most talented contemporary artists not only in India but also recognized internationally, he is known for his socially sensitive art practice His multi-faceted practice comprises photography, sculpture, video, installation work, and paintings. It tends to swerves between the stark portrayal of human destinies and the subtle symbolic depiction of religious, ideological and political systems set within the transnational zeitgeist framework. He sees the underlying connections that lie between the dogmatic ideological and religious systems as well as warfare.

The images he paints are based on photographic references culled from the visual barrage of mass media that are transported into his pictorial space. As he puts it, they carry ‘a protest symbol one way or the other’. He believes it to be his duty to portray the reality. Shifting his attention from the battlefield to the football field, he has created a huge art installation to mark the World Cup 2010, at one of the greatest sporting events of the modern world. The event captures the world's imagination like no other sporting event, holding the entire globe under its spell.

In this context, as he sees it, football serves as an obvious platform for multitude of conflicts – ethnic, political and social - to play out. Every religion on the earth seemingly starts from the centerline and moves in the direction the better team takes it to. The goalkeeper on either side is assigned with the task of keeping the ball out! In this context, his new series makes an effort to revisit memories of one of the oldest sports in India from the socio-political perspective. He thinks it to be the working-class game played that lends itself to rich metaphors. The goalpost fascinates him the most, in particular absence that suggests aimlessness. The artist feels this simple philosophy can easily be applied to politics. It acts as a great healer, he states, alluding to war correspondents who narrate how Iraqi children would football after a deadly air strike. He has employed football as soothing and seething symbol of protest and enjoyment, respectively.

The artist grasped the overarching metaphor of this global game after listening to Iraqi player Younis Mahmoud’s speech after their win over Saudi Arabia in the 2007 Asian Cup, saying they had beaten an ‘enemy’ on the field. Incidentally, Riyas Komu’s ‘The Left Leg’ inspired by the event was showcased at the 2008 Venice Biennale. Another football based project by him ‘MARK HIM’ highlighted misery of Indian players. His latest series ‘Subrato to Cesar’ at Mumabi’s Gallery Maskara, Mumbai in collaboration with The Guild is an extension of the sporting journey the artist has undertaken.

You are welcome for the kick off, proclaims the artist who is saddened that one would easily come across youths wearing Real Madrid, Manchester United or Barcelona jerseys. But an East Bengal shirt will be rare to spot. The artist laments that even the national players continue to in their lower-middle class situations, and wants us to “move backwards a bit and try to appreciate our own Subratos, when we root for the likes of Julio Cesar."

A concept note to the show elaborates: “It’s time to introspect what the World Cup brings to the millions of Indian football fans. The series is as much about art as it is about a game and also about the art of football. When the players from various nationalities join their fans in scoring their own goals in the history of the sport using a new match ball that has been specially created for the World Cup we could also look at creating our own Jabulanis. Here’s an invitation to an effort that in some way would be able to make a beginning.”

The game’s universal language exudes the colonial legacy whose lexicon lacks any contributions or flavors the country can boast of. Riyas Komu wants us to think of our own footballers while we celebrate the wondrous world cup dreams, being played out on the buzzing media, and keep our eyes wide open to other harsh realities immediate to ourselves. “Having indulged in simply passing the ball in our own half amongst ourselves without much progress, it’s high time to go back to the locker room and re-look at the game most of us claim to love,” the artist concludes.