Riyas Komu

Safe to Fight

Safe to Fight
When is it safe to fight? The probabilities of such an undertaking are of course calculated, albeit by intelligent guesses; measures guided by speculations of the fight in terms of the enemy’s strength and the forces needed to defend.
Defence and offense, the twin co-evils of all invasive desires, have been with us for millennia, making an odyssey of long drawn out atrocities- wherein heroes and patriotism are borne from the deaths and violation of others.
History, when read between wars, in the so-called peaceful eras, often suggests peace as the outcome of fighting. I wonder if such peace can be deemed to be the result of a process of distillation, of land drenched in innocent blood, of hope drained from our future and of the likelihood of more to come.
Komu’s work has always been a striking and constant reflection on the contemporary condition where so much remains at stake, here, after many thousands of years of fear and heartbreak as our heritage, we remain ready to move into another ‘situation’; readily abandoning our wit and knowledge and surrendering to the forces that break our bonds and our lives. Komu, like many of his contemporaries, remains perplexed by our lack of conviction to resist war and to think only in terms of defence and offense.
His work is often a multiple space in which we are left grasping the moment in order to release results or meaning. Like in a scientific experiment, the process of his thinking has preceded in secrecy before our entry, as an audience. Within the white cube we are left to investigate the ‘results’ the ‘outcome’ of an experiment that has taken something and, in this case, Komu as the someone, a long time to complete, leaving traces of its element and thinking.
His recent work on tables, which includes Safe to Light, is a second work committed as a table. The first one, made in 2009, with a complicated title, Ballad of the distracted vs Cult of the Dead of the Memory Loss, was a successful installation that provoked a response of amazement from the audience. An intricately engraved table, with symbolic carvings suggestive of maps and mapping, it resonated well with notions of a setting for a war room; - a dedicated space for the intricate arrangement of stains and fallen values. It was topped by a small working car engine that could be turned on by the visitor by a turn of a key on a nearby wall. The two, the table and the engine spoke volumes in terms of the acridity associated with the compulsive behaviour of a human race torn apart by greed, pollution and failed notions of progress.
The new work, Safe to Light, based on the impression of a table surface, holds a similar potential for its reading as a setting for discussions, of a place to hover around. The distance between us is marked by its width and length, a space just big enough to keep us apart and, in intent, is measured to allow the meetings of values, either good, bad or even indifferent, to be mediated. The work, which relies on the dip of the table displays a set of absent legs, thus bowing like a camel sipping from a pond, where a sries of scientific instruments and vessels, used for the process of distillation, act both as a pseudo head and weight that bears upon the whole.
The sculpture acts as a mystical place of gothic pedagogy, where signs and power make a heady mix, suggestive of knowledge in a fixed monumental strait. If distillation is the process in which we survive, then its dictates have created a frightening enclave in the world where the rational and the emotional have been replaced by a carriage drawn by a blinded masculinity, housed by the spectacle of our time- of a dark science of patriotism and nationhood.
The work, Safe to Light is a powerful metaphor for strategic empire builders and scientific irrationalities which have strangulated philosophical truths and essentialised knowledge into odours of capitalism. Safe to Light is reminiscent of a throne dedicated to fear and omission, the work is a weapon, in reproducing the existing orders fascination with the spectres of control.
The painting Haleema is an accompanying image of a singular portrait of a woman giving a speech on a cold day. The actual face of the woman is blurred and indistinguishable, a technique commonly used in portraits in the media to hide the identity of the person. The recognisable form suggests forlorn gazing into the distance, as if her lips are syncing to utter what could be a set of remarks. It is in its simplicity that the portrait starts to vibrate in an unfolding that can only be described as a diachronic thinking through time, of the disappearance and dispersal of humaneness in the contemporary, of honesty and gentleness as suggested in the title. One is left to ponder whether Komu is suggesting, in the use of this title and the way the technology in contemporary media uses anonymity, whether this is due to a role in the life of the speaker or is a result of her utterances.
The third work, Blood Brothers, is a work that straddles both sculpture and a drawing. It is a set of cast aluminium figures of soldiers from two opposing sides, hung against a wall in a battle of no mercies nor of definite winners. It is in this complex battlefield of grids and victims that they suggest the nonsense of spectral violence which now ruins our capacity to be called the intelligent, civilizing race. Blood Brothers, is a reminder of so many places and of so much time where and which have been involved in sheer brutality that now we seem to be tied to a future by a shared histories of violence and violatation that seem to guide us to an ever more dangerous future.
In all three works, people, Komu seems to argue, more so than individuals, now more than ever before, have the power to assert criticalities into certain vacuous sites in order to transform and make history. So much is fast disappearing or hidden now. All three works, combined into the meta-title, Safe to Light, work as a journey, between geographies and temporalities to be reconsidered and use text as a hallmark to recapture power from the powerful and to speak of a world to be ignited by sharing experiences and enhancing connectivity.

The exhibition, in its grace, suggests an examination of our heritage within the light of these sudden politics that have entrapped our voices and our lives, compromised our world and our liberties, made us into interns of societies’ intellectual possibilities. In visiting the various forms of distillation and utterance, we, too, can safely light the path in terms of the community and our intellectual desires. Komu suggests if anything is possible, it can be produced by us and we can remain active in transforming the centres, instigating a necessary move away from the constant distillation of rehearsals based on reparations of the powerful.

Shaheen Merali, February 2010, London