Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Political Football: Riyas Komu and the Iraqi National Team

Riyas Komu, Stadium I, 2007

Iraq's victory over Saudi Arabia in the 2007 Asia Cup final is likely to hold up as one the decade's most significant wins. The team's victory represented a complex distillation of resistance and anger. The torture and murder of Iraqi athletes is frequently cited in the litany of horrors suffered by the Iraqi people at the hands of Saddam Hussein (see this 2003 Sports Illustrated story). Responding to allegations of torture in the country's soccer program, in 1997, FIFA investigated the architect of Iraq's athletics program, Uday Hussein, but spoke only with his people and wrote a report exonerating the sadist. Interest in the plight of the country's people has long been guided by questions of political expediency. These athletes know intimately what it is to have one's body enlisted in the service of the state, and are wary at best about having their experiences drafted into discourse defending the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. On winning the cup, while a frantic official stood next to him shouting, "No Politics! No Politics," captain Younis Mahmoud said, simply: "I want America out of Iraq now!"

Drawn to the team by the Asia Cup victory and the captain's powerful statement, in 2007, Indian artist Riyas Komu went to watch one of Iraq's World Cup qualifying matches.

Click here to read the rest of my latest Art21 post about Komu's work, and to see more examples of the pieces inspired by his work with the Iraqi team.

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