A crumbling concrete wall topped with goal posts divides an Indian art gallery. On one side, there are 126 iron footballs in glass cases; on the other, the low-pitched drone of vuvuzelas and a cheering crowd.
Getting from one side of the sparse Mumbai warehouse gallery to another is a challenge. Visitors have to squeeze through a low, narrow opening in the wall to see the best footballers perform in the World Cup on a big screen. But that is the point of installation artist Riyas Komu’s work, Subrato to Cesar. The title of the show refers to India goalkeeper, Subrato Paul, and Brazil’s number one, Júlio César. “The title signifies the movement from the local players — at home (like Subrato Paul, India’s No. 1 keeper) to the global brands (like César),” says Komu.
“One is completely obscure, the other completely famous,” explains Abhay Maskara, curatorial director of Gallery Maskara. Maskara is currently in South Africa documenting the tournament. “The exhibition shows the distance, the divide between the way the Indian players are treated as opposed to international players,” he adds.
The month-long festival of football has prompted passionate fans like Komu to wonder why India, with a population of 1.1 billion people, has never made it to the World Cup finals.The mixed media exhibition lures football fans onto the art field, where they’re likely to get hit by Komu’s critique of the lamentable state of pro football in India. The launch of the exhibition coincided with the opening World Cup match between South Africa and Mexico. Komu’s fascination with football is not new. In 2007, he created a series of portraits of the Indian National Team’s soccer players, calling it Mark Him.“Our own footballers are a forgotten lot. All we can do is pass the ball around and not make any real progress where it matters,” says an embittered Komu.