Raqs Media Collective was formed in 1991 by independent media practitioners Jeebesh Bagchi, (b. 1965, New Delhi, India), Monica Narula, (b. 1969, New Delhi, India), Shuddhabrata Sengupta, (b. 1968, New Delhi, India). They have been variously described as artists, curators, researchers, editors and catalysts of cultural processes. Their work, which has been exhibited widely in major international spaces, locates them in the intersections of contemporary art, historical inquiry, philosophical speculation, research and theory – often taking the form of installations, online and offline media objects, performances and encounters. They live and work in Delhi. 

In the past few years alone, the collective was involved in many shows worldwide, including Manifesta 7 in Trentino (which they co-curated), and solo shows and group exhibitions at the Tate Britain in London, the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow, the 29th Sau Paulo Biennial of 2010, the 8th Shanghai Biennale, the Frith Gallery in New York, and more. In 2001, Raqs co-founded Sarai (www.sarai.net) at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in Delhi, where they coordinate media productions, pursue and administer independent research and practice projects and also work as members of the editorial collective of the Sarai Reader series. For Raqs, Sarai is a space where they can pursue interdisciplinary and hybrid contexts for creative work and develop a sustained engagement with urban space and with different forms of media. 

Raqs - used in Persian, Arabic and Urdu, is a word that describes the state that whirling dervishes enter into when they whirl.  The collective’s work embodies the practice of a kinetic contemplation of the world.
Raqs Media Collective stayed at the JCVA for three weeks beginning December 2011. The collective stayed in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and visited widely both in the north and south of Israel; the visit included tours of kibbutzim with Architect and architectural historian Zvi Efrat, a tour of the Dead Sea, a two-day stay in the Negev, and a visit to Ramallah, Palestine. They were introduced to Tel Aviv via a tour of the Shapira neighborhood and the central bus station area with Architect, publisher and author Sharon RotbardAnother architectural tour of Tel Aviv, followed a chronological narrative of the development of the city from Neve Tzedek to Ahuzat Bayit. Raqs visited the Tel Aviv Museum, the Herzliya Museum and the Zochrot Gallery, and met with Irit Rogov and Dalia Levin among many other artists, curators, architects and writers.

In the course of their visit, Raqs gave two lectures to a large audience of students, artists and lecturers at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in the Masters Program in Tel Aviv, and before art and photography students in Bezalel’s BA program in Jerusalem.  Their vision was particularly relevant here following the 2011 summer tent protests, and the lectures were eagerly and widely attended.

Raqs’ visit here offered the collective an opportunity continuous with their 20-year long practice of observation and research in urban environments over the world. They noted that the surprises which a new setting affords act as stimuli and triggers for action and fresh critical responses regarding time, place and memory. 

Raqs Media Collective’s stay in Israel is the first part of an exchange project whose artistic products will be exhibited in 2013. Nirith Nelson, JCVA director, invited curator Rotem Ruff, who specializes in contemporary Indian art to join her in curating the project.
The Capital of Accumulation
Two synchronized video projections with Sound, 50 minutes; Two books in vitrines. 2010.

When invited to look into the promise of Berlin, Warsaw and Mumbai as part of the Promised City Project centered around these cities, Raqs created a partly fictive, partly documentary multi-media work which uses the figure of German socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), and her invented alter ego, Luxman Sorabgur, to tie together questions regarding globalization, contemporary metropolitan centers, documentary work, and the current potential for meaningful social change.

Raqs have been studying the effects of documentary film production over the last fifteen years, and have also been engaged with the questions of place; here they took as their inspiration Luxemburg’s revolutionary The Accumulation of Capital: A Contribution to an Economic Explanation, which was written in 1914.  With Luxemburg’s figure and vision as a focal point, they created a web of fictional and real events that crisscross a hundred years in three cities, and are presented via a diptych of two synchronized videos, archival materials, texts, and sound. 

In her book, Luxemburg offered a Marxist vision of broad economic equality free of any national identifications. Through the visual exploration of the three contemporary cities, Raqs attempt to expose the failure involved in the globalization that has taken us over now, as well as the underlying potential. The work moves nimbly between the various figures and the historic and geographic contexts. Luxemburg’s vision of  the freedom to resist receives new meanings as Raqs highlight the unprecedented labor migrations in contemporary cities and emphasize the social and economic gaps between “working hands” and the hands of those who have means.  But Raqs do not only use Luxemburg’s vision as a key into our current reality, and into the contemporary meanings of the loss of national identification.  In fact, their work celebrates Luxemburg’s well known “freedom is always the freedom to think differently,” and makes it relevant a century and two metropolitans away. Perhaps the continuity they affirm is the central thrust of this project.

The Promised City Project was initiated by the Goethe-Institute in Warsaw, and supported by the Max Mueller Bhavan in Mumbai and the Polish Institute in Berlin.