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Buddhist Pitch Riyas Komu

Dimension : 18m x 2m

Buddhist Pitch

Mumbai, Mixed media

"I've looked at Sachin as a metaphor- a defender both on the pitch and off, a fellow youngster who has done much more for us by way of unifying the country in celebration and instilling a sense of pride and identity in us. In many respects, this work is a tribute to a living legend befitting, given this is the year Sachin retired and that he is from Bombay."

So says Riyas Komu of Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketer who is a living God to millions of cricket fans across the country. In this work, a homage to the cricketer and cricket itself, a sport that is an addiction in this country, Komu spins the cricket ball, not so much on a pitch but like Buddhist prayer wheels, to be spun reverentially as one passes by. Rather apt, the reference to sport as religion.

"After India won the World Cup in 1983", says Komu, "the whole approach to the game changed. It became part of our blood, inciting a sense of nationalism and unifying a diverse people. It penetrated into every nook and cranny of the country."

The work consists of a series of slim wooden pillars alternating with steel rods on which cricket balls are skewered. Behind this screen-like layer, embedded 4-5 inch inside the wall, are a number of lenticular prints that unify the entire length of the installation.

On closer inspection, it becomes evident that the pillars are modeled on prayer wheels and are carved with symbols taken from Buddhist art and references to similar contexts such as Ambedkar's teachings. "It was fascinating to research Tibetan prayer wheels, Buddhist ideologies and the influences the spiritual tradition had throughout the subcontinent especially in terms of eradicating class and caste consciousness and unifying peoples. In this respect, cricket and Buddhism are alike - that's why I decided to combine the two."

The imagery on the lenticular prints fitted at the back of this layer include fluttering national flags, such as those waved by fans at the stadium; the image is constructed in five layers. Also included are photographic renditions of Tendulkar gazing at the viewer.

"Most people believe Sachin is the god of cricket. I always read Sachin as a political icon rather than a cricketing idol. The initial years when Sachin came to the crease and those of his progression run parallel to the economic and liberal growth of the nation. At the same time, he had his own mission you can see that reflected in his eyes, a determination to play and to succeed. As I kept looking at articles on Sachin, I realised that a sense of national pride ran through them all as subtext. A journalist friend working in Bombay, CP Surendran once wrote that when Sachin walks onto the crease, the whole nation walks along with him."

Riyas Komu

Riyas Komu joined the Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai in 1992, the year in which the Babri Masjid, the 16th century mosque in Ayodhya, was demolished by Hindu extremists who believed the structure was built over a shrine that marked the site as the birthplace of Lord Rama. The nationwide communal riots and the thirteen bombs that exploded in Mumbai, profoundly affected Komu, prompting him to address political issues in his work. To some extent, this was coming a full circle. Komu grew up in Kerala, where both his father and his uncle were politicians and subsequently influenced his worldview - planting the drive to tackle and critique government policy and affairs.

In the early years of his career, Komu's works dwelt on religious fundamentalism. He then began exploring the political ideologies he was raised with during his childhood in Thrissur, Kerala, simultaneously mining contemporary Indian and global history. Although much of Komu's work may be read as social or political commentary, it traverses a wide range of subjects. Football, portraits and human anatomy become unlikely metaphors of identity, migration and globalisation.

Although Komu was trained as a painter and is perhaps most well known for his photo-realist portraits, his body of work includes photography, video installations and sculptures, many of which are crafted in wood. "I specialised in painting but even during my college years I was working on installations that incorporated wooden elements. My father owned a matchbox factory. When I was a kid, everything around me was made of wood.... I think my interest in wood actually comes from this time, and resurfaced in my practice."

As co-founder of India's first art biennale, Komu has taken a further step in the social practice he brings to his art. As thousands streamed in to catch a glimpse of contemporary art from around India and the world at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2012-13, it was a democratic inclusion of the people.

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