Riyas Komu joined the Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai in 1992, the year in which the Babri Masjid, the 16th century mosque in Ayodhya, was demolished by Hindu extremists who believed the structure was built over a shrine that marked the site as the birthplace of Lord Rama. The nationwide communal riots and the thirteen bombs that exploded in Mumbai, profoundly affected Komu, prompting him to address political issues in his work. To some extent, this was coming a full circle. Komu grew up in Kerala, where both his father and his uncle were politicians and subsequently influenced his worldview - planting the drive to tackle and critique government policy and affairs.
In the early years of his career, Komu's works dwelt on religious fundamentalism. He then began exploring the political ideologies he was raised with during his childhood in Thrissur, Kerala, simultaneously mining contemporary Indian and global history. Although much of Komu's work may be read as social or political commentary, it traverses a wide range of subjects. Football, portraits and human anatomy become unlikely metaphors of identity, migration and globalisation.
Although Komu was trained as a painter and is perhaps most well known for his photo-realist portraits, his body of work includes photography, video installations and sculptures, many of which are crafted in wood. "I specialised in painting but even during my college years I was working on installations that incorporated wooden elements. My father owned a matchbox factory. When I was a kid, everything around me was made of wood.... I think my interest in wood actually comes from this time, and resurfaced in my practice."
As co-founder of India's first art biennale, Komu has taken a further step in the social practice he brings to his art. As thousands streamed in to catch a glimpse of contemporary art from around India and the world at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2012-13, it was a democratic inclusion of the people.