Ahali Conversations with Can Altay podcast

Episode 26: Raqs Media Collective

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Our guests are the legendary Raqs Media Collective, formed in New Delhi in 1992, by Monica Narula, Jeebesh Bagchi and Shuddhabrata Sengupta. I like to call them intellectuals-at-large, but their production ranges from artistic to curatorial projects, from theoretical to educational works. The collective also co-founded Sarai—the inter-disciplinary and incubatory space at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

You’ll hear their unique blend of thinking on technologies and media, from surveillance to bureaucratic interfaces as deeply embedded in societal dynamics; and we’ll get to explore together how they have been producing knowledge as artists. The tidal changes in image cultures; how digital technologies are intertwined with urban infrastructures; how the poetic is also the political; and ultimately the significance of languages are a few of the things that are lingering in my mind and provoking further thoughts after this conversation.


Based in New Delhi, Raqs Media Collective comprises three practitioners: Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and Shuddhabrata Sengupta. For the past three decades, the Collective has been concerned with urbanism, epistemology, technology, globalization, and the experience of time. Drawing upon critical theory and political philosophy, their work is marked by active inquiry, double-meanings, pluralism, and entanglement. https://www.raqsmediacollective.net/

Sarai is among South Asia’s most prominent and productive platforms for research and reflection on the transformation of urban space and contemporary realities, especially with regard to cities, data and information, law, and media infrastructures. https://sarai.net/about/

Initiated by Ankur: Society for Alternatives in Education, Delhi, and Sarai-CSDS, Delhi in the year 2001 Cybermohalla is a network of dispersed labs for experimentation and exploration among young working-class individuals https://sarai.net/projects/cybermohalla/.

The first Cybermohalla took place in LNJP (Lok Nayak Jarai Prakash), an informal settlement in Central Delhi.

Parda-darii is a noun in Hindu meaning play of the veil, removing the veil, revealing the truth, and revealment of secrets.

Can has written on the design of Cybermohalla Hub, in relation to his ‘Setting a Setting’ idea.


Curated by Raqs Media Collective “In the Open or In Stealth” was a group exhibition that has taken place at MACBA in 2018-2019 about the concept of a future in which multiple histories and geographies were placed in dialogue. https://www.macba.cat/en/exhibitions-activities/exhibitions/open-or-stealth

The Walker Art Center is a multidisciplinary contemporary art center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. https://walkerart.org/visit

Established by Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima in Tokyo, Atelier Bow-Wow is an architecture firm. http://www.bow-wow.jp/

Taken place in Walker Art center in 2003, How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age was an exhibition about ways that globalization, or the “new internationalism in art” is affecting visual culture. https://walkerart.org/calendar/2003/how-latitudes-become-forms-art-in-a-global-ag

How Latitudes Become Forms has a vintage website that constitutes substantial archival material about the project. http://latitudes.walkerart.org/overview/index.html

Fatwa is a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority.

Abhinavagupta (c. 950 – 1016 CE) was a philosopher, mystic, and aesthetician from Kashmir. He was also considered an influential musician, poet, dramatist, exegete, theologian, and logician – a polymathic personality who exercised strong influences on Indian culture.

William Shakespeare used more than 20,000 words in his plays and poems, and his works provide the first recorded use of over 1,700 words in the English language. https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/shakespeares-words/

Submitted by Rohana Khattak, a sixteen-year-old reader of the New York Times from, Islamabad, Pakistan to the newspaper’s Invent a Word Challenge, “Oblivionnaire” refers to a billionaire who chooses to be blind to the disparity and inequality that his or her wealth is creating.

“Khullja Sim Sim” translates as “Open Sesame” in English, and “Açıl Susam Açıl” in Turkish. It is a magical phrase in the story of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" and in Antoine Galland's version of One Thousand and One Nights. It opens the mouth of a cave in which forty thieves have hidden a treasure.

Nishastagah is a Hindu word referring to a place not (yet, ever) inhabited by memory.

In response to the passage of the Citizenship Act on 11 December 2019 and the ensuing police intervention against students at Jamia Millia Islamia who were opposing the Amendment, the Shaheen Bagh protest was a peaceful sit-in protest in Delhi, India, that began on 15 December 2019 and lasted until 24 March 2020.

The permanently lost 16mm film, “Half the Night left, and the Universe to Comprehend” is Raqs Media Collective’s first work.

In the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, Ashwatthama was a Maharathi warrior who became a Chiranjivi (immortal) due to a curse given to him by the god of protection, compassion, tenderness, and love, Krishna.

In the essay titled dictionary of war by Raqs Media Collective Ashwatthama is described both as an omnipresent immaterial entity that acts as a propagator of war while tracing his essence within the essence of human subjectivity. http://dictionaryofwar.org/node/894

Mahendra Raj (1924 - 2022) was a structural engineer and designer who contributed to the structural design of many buildings in India including the Hall of Nations at the Pragati Maidan in Delhi.

Opened in 1972, the Hall of Nations was a building designed by architect Raj Rewal, and structurally engineered by Mahendra Raj. The structure was demolished in April 2017 to make way for a new complex.

The essay that Jabeesh mentions while referring to Mahendra Raj is titled Living with the Future in South Asia by Chris Moffat. https://www.publicbooks.org/modernist-architecture-heritage-south-asia-pragati-maidan/

This season of Ahali Conversations is supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. The Graham provides project-based grants to foster the development and exchange of diverse and challenging ideas about architecture and its role in the arts, culture, and society.

This episode was also supported by a Moon & Stars Project Grant from the American Turkish Society.

This episode was recorded on Zoom on May 17th, 2022.

Interview by Can Altay. Produced by Aslı Altay & Sarp Renk Özer. Music by Grup Ses.

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