It was on hearing Iraqi footballer Younis Mahmoud’s victory speech in 2007 that artist Riyas Komu understood the overarching metaphor of football. Mahmoud, with his single goal, secured Iraq’s victory over Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup. The Iraqi team had trained in exile for six years because of the war back home, and in his speech Mahmoud said his team beat an enemy on the field. Saudi Arabia is an American ally.
Artist Rias Komu, with his works at his studio in Mumbai. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Komu created his The Left Leg series and dedicated it to Mahmoud. It was showcased at the Venice Biennale in 2008. This year, he’s back with Subrata to Cesar—a tribute to football players and the ongoing Fifa World Cup. Subrata to Cesar opened on Friday in Mumbai with players of the current national football team, including Mohammed Rafi and Bhaichung Bhutia, present.
Like Komu’s earlier works, Subrata to Cesar politicizes the game. For Komu, football is the working-class game—played in the black ghettos of Paris, slums of Latin America, and by migrant Iraqi taxi drivers. The game also lends itself to rich metaphors. The goalpost, for instance, is what fascinates Komu most. Its presence indicates the reality and direction of a goal while its absence indicates aimlessness. It’s a simple philosophy which Komu feels can be applied to any situation, especially politics.
The game’s simplicity and brevity also makes it a healer, says Komu. “I’ve heard war correspondents tell me how Iraqi children would come to play football after an air strike,” he says.
Komu has used football as a symbol of both protest and enjoyment. While one section of his artwork invokes the sense of protest, the other section is fashioned like a lounge with a screen telecasting the Fifa World Cup live.
Komu’s passion for football is evident in his daily life too. Every morning, he plays football with a bunch of middle-aged men at the local football ground in Borivali, Mumbai. “It’s more about connecting socially. We discuss global and Borivali-related issues,” he quips. His house-help Manoj Mishra is a football juggler and has made it to the Limca Book of Records.
Komu himself is unsure whether he’s more excited about his exhibition or about going to South Africa for the World Cup. He’s rooting for Argentina even though he is a Brazil fan. “I want this to be Maradona’s game. I want him to rise like a phoenix. Someday I’m going to sculpt a Maradona, the Redeemer, statue for Argentina,” he says.
Subrata to Cesar is on show at Gallery Maskara in Colaba, Mumbai, till 12 July.