Kochi-Muziris Biennale co-founder and artist Riyas Komu has stepped down from all his management position connected to the event pending an inquiry, after he was accused of sexual harassment and forcibly kissing a woman.
"The Managing of Committee of the Kochi Biennale Foundation met on October 19, 2018 to discuss the allegation raised in the media against Riyas Komu. Though the Foundation has received no formal complaint, we are collectively committed to ensuring zero tolerance to any harassment or misconduct, and have decided to constitute a committee to inquire into this matter. Riyas Komu has stepped down from all his management positions connected to the Biennale till the matter is resolved. The Kochi Biennale Foundation is responsible for the safety and security of its community, and will take all measures to ensure this as we work together in making the Biennale," according to a tweet from the KochiBiennale account.
The anonymous post on Instagram came three days ago, where a survivor shared her story about Komu. She met him in Mumbai, she wrote, for a studio visit. He was friendly, they spoke about work and he invited her to Kochi to discuss a project. In Kochi, she attended the event, and at one point agreed for a drink with him.
"Midway through the conversation, he ran his fingers up my arm and thigh, and asked me, 'what are you really here for?' From this point on, my body just froze and I was in a state of shock," she wrote. He later offered to drop her at her hotel, but once there, he began walking towards her room ahead of her. "At no point did I indicate verbally or otherwise that he could accompany me to my room. He made his way into the room first and immediately pushed me against the wall. He began kissing me up while I struggled to even process what the hell was going on. I was so petrified that I just let it happen," she wrote.
She was violated again while in Kochi and the promised project never materialised, she wrote.
A day later, another survivor wrote about her bad experience as a volunteer at the Biennale, when a senior artist grabbed her and tried to kiss her, though it is not clear who the second account is about. She resisted and ran away, he wouldn't look at her after that, and would belittle her in front of guests.
Riyas Komu put up an Instagram post on Thursday, offering his apologies. "I'm deeply upset that this incident has been understood and presented in this manner. However, as the person expressed hurt, I would like here to offer my apologies and I am opening myself to the possibility of a conversation," he wrote.