Kunstsammlung NRW
Raqs Media Collective, Foto: Amàlia Jyran Dasgupta
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3 questions for... Raqs Media Collective

The investigation of time, language, and history is central to the artistic activities of the Raqs Media Collective. Founded in 1992 by Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Raqs practices at the intersection of contemporary art, historical enquiry, philosophical speculation, and theory, while taking into account social and political conditions in a global context.

In the run-up of their exhibition at the K21, Raqs Media Collective answered three questions in their very own manner for #32:

With "Raqs Media Collective" you ask "rarely asked questions" (raqs).
Which questions do you have in mind? How could answers look like?

Raqs Media Collective: R(arely) A(sked) Q(uestion)S lead to a re-ordering of the consciousness of the questioner. The question may be very simple, or not. It's really not about the order of difficulty that a question embodies. Its actually about being the type of enquiry that suddenly disturbs everything that we take for granted.

Some time ago, we devised a performative work called the 'Bureau of Rarely Asked Questions'. The piece involves two official looking desks. The two desks are signposted ‘The Bureau of Rarely Asked Questions (RAQS)' and 'The Bureau of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)’.

The Bureau of FAQS has a sign saying, perpetually, 'Closed. Out to Lunch'. There is a person who sits at the Bureau of RAQS. Any visitor can go and ask this person any question. Any question at all.

When you ask a question, the person thinks about your query and decides if it is interesting enough to qualify as a 'rarely asked question'. If it doesn’t make the cut, then the questioner is referred to the 'Bureau of FAQS', which, unfortunately is always shut for lunch.

In case it is a RAQS, then a set of cards is consulted. There are six sets of index cards. Each set is labelled and has a number of possible answers to questions. Once an answer is given, a conversation can happen, which can last until the questioner is satisfied. And then the next questioner gets their turn. And so it goes on…

Here are some answers:

By taking advantage of every possible misunderstanding.
By deliberately acting in contradiction to your stated interests.
By a willingness to be defeated.
By witnessing the passage of time without interruption.
When the next solar eclipse occurs.
Whenever the next bus leaves the central station.
At the time of the pre-cambrian biological explosion.
In 1426 AD.
Whenever convenient.
Now. At this very moment.
With two you will get three free.
As much as you can.
As little as possible.
Just enough.
a few milligrams will be adequate.
Because the newspaper rarely ever reveals its secrets.
Because the north wind brings with it the longing for the south.
Because the question is too important to answer quickly.

Visitors of the exhibition, photo: Wilfried Meyer

#32: The idea of the collective is essential to your work. What does it include? How do artistic processes/decisions look like, being part of a group.

Raqs Media Collective: It is not as if the ball of an idea, be it an image, a fragment of text, a sketch or a set of instructions, or a curatorial proposition, once chucked by any one of our three minds is automatically destined to travel, as if in relay, in the direction charted for it by the person who first threw it. The interception of the idea, and the turn that may be given to it once it is caught while it courses the world between our hard drives, may change the very direction of its flight altogether. Things may bounce back and forth for a long time, or they may acquire spins and velocities that takes them into completely unexpected orbits. 

This can continue, until the ball comes to rest in a momentary pause in the game. This pause is often the moment when we find that a work is at a stage when it is more or less ready to slide into the world outside our hard drives. Usually this is an art work, sometimes it is an exhibition that we have curated, or a text written by us.

Raqs Media Collective at the surrounding park of K21: Coronation Park, 2015, photo: Wilfried Meyer

#32: For the Düsseldorf exhibition, you’ve planned several works in the surrounding outdoor area. Do you have a relation to the City of Düsseldorf and the history, culture or politics in Germany? How do the works correlate to the surrounding space?

Raqs Media Collective: 'Coronation Park' is represented in the garden through through three statues on plinths, annotated by a fragment of text. This work speak to the idea of hubris, and the reality that all forms of power, no matter how permanent they think themselves to be, are ephemeral. This is an idea that should resonate in any setting that has seen the rise and fall of great claims to power. It would be relevant anywhere in Europe, and indeed in many places in the world, but the history of imperial ambitions in Germany makes it quite significant, even in Dusseldorf.

'If the World Is a Fair Place' takes the form of metal rings for trees in the garden outside K21. This work emerged in response to thinking about justice, fairness and a history of racial discrimination and violence. The word 'fair' shades into three different senses here - fair, as in just, fair as in a shade of skin or a racial marker, and finally, fair as in a carnival or exposition. The work emerges from an intersection of these three senses and responses to a question asked by Raqs to the inhabitants of St. Louis, Missouri, USA in the wake of the unrest that followed the Ferguson shooting of an unarmed African American teenager by a white policeman in 2014. Ferguson is a suburb of St. Louis, which was the site of the World Fair 1904 - a universal exposition at the turn of the 20th century.

Postcards with "If the world is a fair place, then… ?" were distributed. People were encouraged to fill in the blanks with ideas about what they thought would happen if the world were indeed a fair place (in exchange for ice-cream shaped erasers, if they liked to).  Some of these responses became the text on the metal rings, for example. 

Then my grandfather wouldn't die unhappy
Then blue skies, turbulent, seas, forgiven debt
Then colour will be free
Then a smile will always be truanted
Then average speed = 15MPH
Then I won’t be an exception
Then Free ice cream for kids
Then I’m listening
Then I will find my lost Ferris Wheel
Then less would be more
Then there would be no need to ask this question

Given that questions to do with racism and justice are present in alarming ways all over the world, we think that this work is quite relevant. Recently, we read a blog post titled ‘The Everyday Racism I face as a Black Woman in Germany’ by Lisa Tracy Michalik, an actress of African origin who lives and works in Düsseldorf. In this blog post, Michalik, talks about micro-aggressions, and the kind of 'everyday racism' she faces.

She writes: "The simple question, 'Where are you from?' is not simple, it’s loaded. Because in nine out of 10 cases, when I respond that I’m from Düsseldorf, they reply 'Yes, but where are you really from?'”



Blog post by Lisa Tracy Michalik
Original text of the quote in question 3:


Raqs Media Collective: Additions, Subtractions: On Collectives and Collectivities
Essay on working as a collective, in: Manifesta Journal 8 (2009/2010):

MORE (pdf)

Website Raqs Media Collective
Extensive overview on the collective's work:


Raqs Media Collective
21 April – 12 August 2018
K21 Ständehaus