Riyas Kunnamangalam carves his views on the contemporary world on teak root

Riyas Kunnamangalam’s thoughts are simple, straightforward. His craft is not. Riyas’ sculptures are delicate ideas realised by complex workmanship. His medium in itself is a test of perseverance. The sculptor scoured the estates of Thusharagiri, Anakampoyil and Nilambur in search of teak roots. “That search is painstaking. The tree would have long gone. I had to identify the spot and start digging to find the roots,” recounts Riyas.

Riyas is holding an exhibition titled ‘God’s Own Country – Verukalilude’ in the city. On display are 12 sculptures carved on teak roots over the past one year. Unlike other medium which allows the sculptor to etch his idea on it, here the medium dictates the subject. “From the shape of the root, I decide the subject that can be done on it,” says Riyas.

Through the sculptures on view, Riyas makes a commentary on contemporary society. Women are his chief subjects and they are violated, harassed and abandoned. ‘Kaalam Irulumbol’ is Riyas’ take on the plight of the elderly in Kerala. “On the days I was exhibiting my works in Thrissur, came the news of an old woman being abandoned at Guruvayur by her children,” remembers Riyas. The only work done on rosewood, it has an old woman, her large button earrings intact, sitting with sorrow writ large on her face.

The self-explanatory ‘Avivahitayaya Amma’ has the figure of a mother with her new born baby at the feet. Both are trapped by a coiling snake, carved out expertly from the shape of the root.

The work is evocative as Riyas successfully brings to the baby the appearance of a new born. “The father goes scot-free. It is the woman and child who are trapped,” he says.

‘Aanakanneer’ brings to focus the pressing issue of animal torture and subsequent killing of mahouts. Riyas has used the face of lion to depict the cruelty of the mahout.

Riyas dabbled in drawing for quite a while before turning his attention on sculpture. Though he initially did work on teak wood he realised there were many others working on the medium. The search for exclusivity took him to the teak root. He began by carving portraits. “The moment you see a root and its shape, the stories it can hold comes to you. There have been days when I worked from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. the next morning,” says Riyas.

His ‘Vilapikkunna Mathrutvam’ addresses harassment of young girls. A mother is depicted with a baby even as an eagle hovers around her. ‘Valayilekku oru ‘click’ dooram’ too depicts the various traps that await young girls. There are signs of abuse — a robe being loosened, a face hidden, a cell phone in hand, a woman crouched. ‘Kaivellayil oru ottukaran’ too treads a similar subject.

He attempts a different subject with ‘Vargeeyata’ where pointed root tips are turned to a sword and amidst the various folds of the root is a figure of crucified Christ. The three-dimensional ‘Charitragati’ too evokes a sense of violence with severed heads and religious representatives finding a space in the sculpture. On the other side of the root is Mother Teresa mourning the plight of the world.

(‘God’s Own Country – Verukalilude’ is on at the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi Art Gallery till November 15.)