The urge to switch from subjunctive to indicative is so powerful in the deeper contours of Riyas komu’s mind that he ends up outdoing himself, and then arrives closer to a new language, in the process breaching its entry points. For those who know the artist’s work, it is, of course, a recurring situation or set of situations that keep making arresting and concluding appearances in Komu’s works an also in rare, but meditative conversations.
This time around, in Left Legs, he has done the works with pomp and circumstance, vaulting himself within a mode of protest akin to an ambush. The message is boldly above the medium. He makes it obvious, like never before, that he is delightfully unabashed of criticism from gunrunners in academia, who might be bent upon targeting raw dissent while tolerating flamboyant rebelliousness. Komu, also revels, rather arrogantly, in bringing together a mass of anarchism and indiscipline into his practice, perhaps after a long absence.
Komu, explores in these works, the unparalleled greed and madness of our times, through what is arguably the most passionate athletic activity on earth- soccer.
But be warned, he takes it even further, juggling axioms of conquest and resistance. Using the deadened concrete- strewn streets of Baghdad as a mythical playground in exile, he searches for a new hero beyond the wounded layers of Iraq’s social and political unrest.
Like the big, muscular wooden life forms on exhibit whose sinews lie entwined endlessly, Komu combines scale and details, rawness and learnt skills, breadth and density, rigour and delicateness and several other hard- to- reject expressions, in order to reveal them, even de- skin the society and place it under microscopic focus.
These giant’s boost, that carry the logos, with striking commerciality as well as religious implications, are like gladiator’s calf muscles, even sexy thighs… there is abundant vitality and prowess in this wood. The facelessness, torso-less players, in figurative flourish, look ever ready to kick hard, dribble and become starts by offering some moments of sporting treat. But the work questions and doubts linger as we catch the artist’s subtle attempts to define and the redefine. Attached to the legs are concrete slabs-scarred by bullet mark--that signify the hobbling effects of “civilising” forces on the frontlines of the “third world “.
Well, so much has been said about the on-going war and its atrocities that they forget to tell us about the survival of a game that is close to every Iraqi’s heart.
Nevertheless, questions keep surfacing. What have those identity thieves of Baghdad done to soccer? Are the playgrounds in a country shelled to the last bitter inch? What would it feel like to play for a country other than this?
Unlike Komu’s protagonists in a previous work, Mark Him (an exhibition on Indian footballers), the Iraqi players don’t live in semi-deprivation and neglect.
Here, surprisingly, they are taken care of, they remain physically strong, but still soccer in this country needs to resurrect itself from the curse of chaos that begets more chaos.
The accompanying painting titled Stadium I, shows a crutch holding the Iraqi flying flag high as the team captain Younus Mahmoud looks on. It remains an absolute gem from Komu’s conceptual sensibility making further sense of the current state of affairs.
It, along with other paintings, bonds well with the sculptures, thereby elevating the artist’s concerns much beyond soccer, mapping onto his recurrent subject: politics.
In hindsight, and also in a broad futuristic sense, it has to be said that the contemporary international geo-political scenario-getting worse on a daily basis-only fuels Komu’s scope towards his work. It continues to enrage curiosity, to search even deeper into motives entombed in the rubble of half- truths, lies and deceit. This is something about Komu that often gets overlooked-a grave mistake for a critic, considering that there’s a lot of attention given to his works, which remain pleasantly or unpleasantly grim.
Just as the work remains unpretentious and focused away from the mundane attitude to a world at war.
His Iraq project-beginning with this series-may slowly unravel more mysteries about the man, his works and his thinking. Komu, is amazingly on the ball with his choice of the place and context. These works, to a great extent, is a natural progression for an artist whose anti-imperialist stance and leftist leanings are well-known and highly reflected in his use of aesthetics, symbolism and style.
In reflecting on Iraq, he points again to a country that once housed one of the most enriched cultural heritages of any civilisation in recorded history. The nation of Iraq had patronised the most learned of engineers, artists and architects of its time and as a legacy left behind a million wonders and anecdotes for generations to marvel at.
In the recent past, this same land has fallen apart under the weight of its own complexities and mindless aggression. The subject that can be construed as under scrutiny is the revival and beastly spell of soccer in modern Mesopotamia. To give the mundane its due beauty, it is indeed a heady mix to resist. The reflective embedded in the narrative portraits of Mahmoud, titled Occupations Series I & II, raise questions than they answer, as any good art does.
Unsurprisingly, Komu has also managed to capture and highlight contemplative moods much more than just the winning moments, which are largely left out, taken as of general awareness or even assumption. Of course, it's unwise to foist any ideological burden on a player in the close run-up to the 90-minute tryst with destiny, but a praying Mahmoud on the ground means much more to the spectators. How long will the current success streak last? Will there be an apotheosis through football? How long will the fight go on? Will soccer's triumph mean a country's survival?
You feel this sensation again, as you gaze at the works, in closer proximity: questions galore and even fewer answers. You feel the joy of the Mexican waves in the background, uninhibited cheering, wolf whistles… it’s like the philosophical musing of the mountain that wishes to come to Mohammed. The people, the fans… they are everywhere - their faces look immortalised in photographic prints on linen, pasted onto the back the wooden legs that seem to derive immense energy from their own euphoric cries.
Walking out from the midst of Komu’s works is like exiting a stadium-it’s rapid and smells either of victory or of loss and nothing else! Alas, this is the name of the game and the emotional it exudes.
But before I sign off, I must say that if you think this exhibition is more about soccer than anything else, you need to move your own goalposts.