Raqs Media Collective
Jeebesh Bagchi, born in New Delhi, India, in 1966.
Monica Narula, born in New Delhi, India, in 1969.
Shuddhabrata Sengupta, born in New Delhi, India, in 1968.
They live and work in New Delhi.
The New Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective, which was formed in 1992, has been regarded as one of the most dynamic practices working both internationally and within the Indian cultural context. Its members—Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and Shuddhabrata Sengupta—conceptualize their work in the realm of the history of ideas, mythological traditions, political philosophy, speculative inquiry, and narratives that are sensed from their immediate surroundings as an “acoustics of the present.” The word “raqs” in the group’s name has two meanings: in Persian, Arabic, and Urdu, raqs refers to a whirling state of meditation; it is also an acronym for “Rarely Asked Questions.”While the collective’s early practice focused on documentary filmmaking, they soon began to migrate toward a range of entwined roles as artists, curators, educators, writer–editors, and theater directors. In 2000, Raqs Media Collective cofounded the pioneering Sarai program at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi and the Sarai Reader series.
At the Biennale di Venezia, Raqs Media Collective presents a series of nine sculptures spread across the Giardini: Their project Coronation Park references the site in Delhi that hosted the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary as emperor and empress of India in 1911, the so-called Delhi Durbar (Court of Delhi). The Raqs project, however, features royal statuary denuded of a role in the dramaturgy of global governance.
Each of the nine figures in Coronation Park represents one of these historical subjects and bears a plaque with a quote from Shooting an Elephant, an essay by the English author George Orwell, who wrote it while serving as a police officer in colonial India and Burma. As a metaphor for British imperialism, this essay presents Orwell’s view that “when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.”
Beyond their social and political implications, however, these sculptures revel in a material vulgarity of hierarchic authority. Made of bitumen (an oil-based tar) and paraffin (a petroleum-based wax), they gesture toward the widespread hydrocarbon economy and the insatiable hunger of global capitalism. In this way, they also project upon the garden site from the many layers of palimpsestic pasts and suggestions of a possible future, yet buoyed between a dystopian and industrious imagination. According to a statement by the members of Raqs Media Collective, “Coronation Park is a provocation to think about the inner life of power, of its deepest fear: the fear of abdication.” The continuum of modern history is evidenced here not as “residue” but rather as the hollow presence of partial subjects.