Riyas Komu
  Recent Photographs
  23rd  March- 15th April, 2005


The 28 portraits here are of boys who have become men before their time. Riyas met most of them in a garage in Borivili, a far – flung suburb of Bombay, where he currently works on sculptures in metal. The boys migrated to Bombay from various parts of the country for a living.


The faces all smile without exception. What they are smiling through is a childhood smashed to smithereens, eternal vigil not to slip into crime, absence of familial affections, the pandemic Indian curse of blighted life. What they are smiling through is the wasteland of their existence, the iron in the soul.


What they are smiling at though is the future. It’s not as if that future is fail proof. Future is a gray country full of phantoms. It’s Fantasy Land. And in fantasy lies flight – and hope. You need faith to realize your future. You can see faith shining in these eyes, painting the portraits precious.


The photographs find a place in the sun on archival paper, and in gray. You could super impose print on it, and the features will still survive it. Just like a durable human weathered by life. In that sense, the material, medium and message morph into each other in this effort, which I see as catholic in essence. It’s the charitable intent of Riyas’s camera that leverages a few grimy lives into the realms of a grainy heroism. That Riyas has chose to call this exhibition Grass is ironical. Only those who have reached the other side of the fence know that all that’s green slips by imperceptible degrees into shades of gray.


I never knew boys were so beautiful. Our aesthetics have been brutally reduced to responses of desire through incessant, primitive urbanization. We trained to see beauty normally in high heels and leather. The pulchritude of the painted face, shining plastic, and glazed tile. Actually, of course, beauty goes deeper than skin, it goes as deep as hope, longing, innocence.


Together, these photographs develop a stylized critique of a people’s warped aesthetics, a fundamental structuring principle of the mind. In the process, it seems clear to me, the green that Riyas is talking about is actually these 28 incandescent blades of grass, fading, merging into the uniform grey, the colour of our industrial culture. The expectant eyes here have not yet seen fully what’s in store on the other side of the fence, but we do. Because, we are the other side, the grey world’s permanent tenants. And we gaze at these young faces, as if through a curtain of grey grains, recalling the promise that wasn’t made good in us.




C.P. Surendran is a poet, novelist living and working in Bombay.


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