In my new works—two series of sculpture pieces titled Camel Clichés and Oil Massage, and a series of photographs and paintings called Occupation Stories —the football metaphor goes a step further and encompasses deeper issues of identity, death and memory. These works, done in the last six or seven months in Mumbai, are for a show on contemporary Indian art at the Gemeente Museum, the Hague.
My first tryst with the Iraqi team was in late 2007. It was a tournament in Dubai, and they were one of the teams. In their qualifying matches against China and Australia, the stadium was full of Iraqi boys cheering for their team. They represented an Iraq that we are not aware of. I was like a press photographer, following and capturing them on the field and in their dressing rooms.
It wasn’t difficult to break in. When I said I was Indian, they became very friendly. I was particularly close to Younis Mahmoud, the captain.
For the new show, I dug out some of the black and white close-ups I had taken of Younis and superimposed a map of America on different parts of his face for a group of photographs that makes one artwork when viewed together. I am still in touch with Younis and some of the other players, mostly on the phone, and many ideas formed through our discussions in the last year have crystallized in the works for this show.
The sculptures, mostly wood and metal, are made of seemingly disparate, independent entities, but viewed together, reflect the macro reality of most of the Arab world. Camel Cliche II, for example has a large (about nine and a half feet) sinewy footballer’s body disjointed in the middle. Between the torso and the legs, I place a metal barrel and on top of that is a wooden camel. The work projects some of the problems that ail West Asia today—America’s greed for its oil, the marginalization of its talent and the stereotyped images the world has of that part of the world. Oil Massage, another sculpture, addresses similar issues.
The works in which I tackle something entirely new are War Hero , a painting, and Last Pass , a wood sculpture. In the last couple of months, especially after terror hit home in Mumbai, I have been preoccupied with the idea of transition of the dead to the other world—the phase beyond death which is nurtured by memory and supernatural beliefs. The painting in question is that of Ahmad Shah Masoud, the Afghan national hero who was instrumental in driving the Soviet army out of Afghanistan in the late 1980s. A staunch opponent of the Taliban, Masoud was murdered two days prior to the World Trade Center attacks. I am doing different kinds of portraits of Masoud.
Last Pass is more surreal, and haunting. The biggest work in the show, most of it is a wooden coffin balanced on an athletic body (a footballer’s body). The present is carrying the burden of the dead, and the future is nowhere in sight.
Riyas Komu is a Mumbai-based artist whose new works are going to be displayed at the show India: New Giants at Gemeente Museum, the Hague, Netherlands, from 28 March-21 June.