Curator Riyas Komu on political football and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale – video

Riyas Komu talks football, conflict resolution and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale at Experimenter Curators’ Hub 2014. 

The 2014 Experimenter Curators’ Hub (ECH) in Kolkata, India included a series of talks by influential contemporary curators. Art Radar summarises the talk by India’s Riyas Komu, who spoke about his artistic engagement with football and his experience co-curating the groundbreaking Kochi-Muziris Biennale. 

Riyas Komu at Experimenter Curators’ Hub (ECH) 2014. Image courtesy Experimenter.

Riyas Komu at Experimenter Curators’ Hub (ECH) 2014. Image courtesy Experimenter.

The Experimenter Curators’ Hub

Inaugurated in 2011, the Experimenter Curators’ Hub (ECH) 2014 (PDF download) took place on 25 and 26 July at the Experimenter Gallery in Kolkata. Ten renowned international curators participated in the forum, giving individual presentations:

Now in its fourth edition, the ECH has emerged as one of the most significant events in India engaging with contemporary curatorial practice. Through the exchange of thoughts and sharing of experiences by curators who are pushing the boundaries of contemporary art, the event aims to:

comprehend the theoretical aspects of the process of curating while discussing [curators’] challenges and concerns.

Riyas Komu: Artist and curator

Riyas Komu (b. 1971, Kerala, India) is a multimedia artist and activist working towards developing art infrastructures in India. Living and working in Mumbai and Kerala, Komu creates critically acclaimed political works that have been exhibited extensively in India and abroad. In 2007, Komu was one of two artists from India selected by curator Robert Storr for the 52nd Venice Biennale.

In 2012, Komu became the co-founder and co-curator of India’s first ever biennale of international contemporary art, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Together with Bose Krishnamachari, he organised a biennale that inspired a reconsideration of contemporary art in the Indian context.

In his presentation, Komu speaks about his dual roles as artist and curator. He first talks about some of his own artistic projects which, in his words, are

part of [an] artistic engagement which culminated in the idea of curation.

Click here to watch Riyas Komu ECH 2014 Day 1 from Experimenter Contemporary Art on Vimeo

Political football: Iraq 

Komu comments on his fascination with football in his artwork and curatorial projects:

My engagement with football was not just to look at football as a game – it was also [to] look at football as a social phenomena […]

Some of Komu’s key works involving football include “Mark Him” (2007), a series of portraits of the Indian National Team, and “Left Legs” (2008), a study of the Iraqi football team. “Left Legs” is a powerful, complex series of photographs and sculptures using wood, concrete and steel, which depicted the political implications of a war-torn country’s victory.

For Komu, the game of football reflects the complicated tensions of nationalism and foreign politics. He recalls Iraq’s victory over Saudi Arabia in the 2007 Asia Cup Final, after which Iraqi captain Younis Mahmoud proclaimed “I want America out of Iraq now.”

Drawn by this powerful statement, Komu travelled to watch the Iraqi team’s World Cup qualifying matches. He proceeded to study the contradictory sentiments and pressures of a team forced into exile, and the sport’s links to violence, resistance and anger.

From football to film festivals

Komu’s first curating experiences involved initiating football film festivals in India. He co-curated the “Soccer in Cinema” section of the 42nd International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa in 2011, the first football festival in the country. He was also the curator of the “Kicking and Screening” section of the 15th International Film Festival of Kerala.

The curated films in these festivals were sourced from across the world and cover a vast range of anthropological and sociopolitical issues, including human trafficking from South Africa to European clubs. Komu says that these festivals are the result of him “looking at the cultural possibilities of football.”

Artists’ Cinema 

Inspired by the feedback and audience response in the film festivals, particularly in Kerala, Komu became more involved in the curation of international video art and video works. As a collateral project of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, Komu curated a section called “Artists’ Cinema”. He says:

People were loving the video works […] I decided to curate a particular project called Artists’ Cinema to include people who [were] engaged with cinema as a medium, and video as a medium […] [I wanted to] change the way people think towards this particular section and engage more people [so I decided to] call it Artists’ Cinema.

Kochi Biennale 2014 curator Jitish Kallat, Biennale Director of Programmes Riyas Komu, KBF President Bose Krishnamachari and Biennale's new long-term patron T V Narayanan Kutty at function organized by the Kochi Biennale Foundation to felicitate Mr Kutty in the city on Monday. Image courtesy Kochi Muziris Foundation.

Kochi Biennale 2014 curator Jitish Kallat, Biennale Director of Programmes Riyas Komu, KBF President Bose Krishnamachari and Biennale’s new long-term patron T V Narayanan Kutty at function organized by the Kochi Biennale Foundation to felicitate Mr Kutty in the city on Monday. Image courtesy Kochi Muziris Foundation.

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale

According to Komu, one of his most fundamental visions for the Kochi Biennale was multiculturalism and a liberal perspective. Being an ancient port city, Kochi has a special atmosphere of acceptance, one that welcomes new ideas and enables knowledge to take root and culminate. The artist says:

I always thought Kochi has a […] very different atmosphere to engage with the public from all perspectives […] and we proposed the idea that we will do a Biennale in Kochi.

Komu states that the Biennale also allowed for a high degree of experimentation, and allowed a free reign for art to grow organically. One reason was that the event was able to accommodate a high amount of work being produced on-site. He says:

More than 73 percent of the works were produced on-site. That is almost like creating a new narrative into contemporary art practice. So that also engaged more than 150 students who worked as volunteers with artists. Art production became a resonating thing in the city for almost 4-5 months […] that was the best learning experience in the Biennale.

Curating conflict resolutions

Another vision for the Biennale, according to Komu, was the creation of a space for conflict resolution. Curated works addressed a vast range of pertinent political issues including human rights, trade, religion and migration, amongst many others. The event allowed everybody to engage dynamically, stretching the horizons of not just the audience but also the artists themselves.

When asked about his curating experience from an artist’s perspective, Komu responded that he saw his role less as a curator and more as the creator of a special site: one which opens up possibilities for conflict resolution and expands the nation’s art infrastructure. He says:

I don’t think I’m a curator […] The task was not to curate; it was to establish a Biennale, which will eventually be a site for better curations.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: biennales, biennials, artists as curatorscurators, curatorial practice, conferences, videos, events in Kolkata

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