Review by Amrita Varma
February 15, 2018


Holy Shiver
Riyas Komu
February 1-March 3, 2018
Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi

By Amrita Varma

Art in its essence pushes frontiers of understanding. It is meant to be a free voice, a light to the world, a discussion if you will, of all that is around us and how we are connected with it. This force was unleashed in its entirety at Riyas Komu’s latest solo at the Vadehra Art Gallery.

A show that does not shy away from being political unlike the many muted voices we see around, it is an arresting one to say the least. As one enters the ground floor of the three-storied building where Komu’s sculptural works, paintings and installations are placed, one has no idea what lies ahead on the journey.

Riyas is a deeply sensitive artist who looks at humanity and its mental plane and ideologies and how its matrix effects the very nature of the world we live in. This exhibition takes off from that very premise and moves to bolder fields of thought. His promotion of communism and its commaradrie is a known fact and sometimes writ in stone that sometimes can become irksome. In this show it takes a departure to a more fundamental bent of understanding which directly and primarily effects the Indian Polity and its very existence.

There is a sense of urgency and despair within the show. Komu looks at the state of what it means to be a citizen of India in today’s hardlined political scenario and the events in the recent political climate nationally which have lead to works like ‘Fear’ being brought to life. Viewing each work hits one hard to a point where one is forced to acknowledge the wiping out of the constitution’s very existence slowly but surely, right in front of our very eyes

The unspeakable has happened and we are expected to rise to the occasion and see what really matters and how our silence kills everything good around us. The consistent refrain of the small engraved wood national emblem of Satyamev Jayete spotlighted on all three floors at strategic locations does not let us forget the state of arrest India is in.

It does not let us forget our hand in the making and destruction of our national political scene, our letting go as a people of our constitution and law, by our silence and looking away from all that is happening around from farmers deaths to hangings, to the rubbled pillar of the grand Ashokan pillar…The associations are direct and hit the very core of our being.

There is a deep sense of respect for the constitution and law that one can see are systematically being destroyed by our own actions and negligence. The country is in a state of disrepair where we don’t exercise our rights or stand up for it. Much is being lost by the second. The lion that is the India, is exhausted and lying low in front of the rusted metal blades of grass where the Ashokan pillar hides, while Gandhi and Ambedkar blend and bleed through the silent canvas to awaken or remind.

There is also an uncomfortable sense of mutilation and dying of hopes and wishes of a billion and more Indians where artifacts of culture like the resplendent dancing girl of Mohen jo Daro once stood strong as itself is put on display before instruments of governance to be analysed, re-examined for relevance, stripped and vulnerable in front of the majestic throne of power, while an innocent teenager looks on in the belief of a great nation of historicity, culture and progress. The barbs are many and they hit home.

If there is one exhibition that reflects and activates the state of national consciousness in relation to Indian Politics today and brings the spotlight dead center without being diplomatic, it is Riyas Komu’s present solo. This show is historic in channeling and addressing the aspects of the state of national affairs previously denied or pulled under the carpet, and it does so in all its bravado, sensitivity, brevity and integrity of voice. After a long time I have experienced a show of such stellar quality and conceptualisation bringing back faith in visual art as a powerful instrument in a master artist’s hand and I recommend it to anyone who wants to start that very discussion on our identity.