Monica Narula, M.A.
Monica Narula, M.A. is cofounder of the
Raqs Media Collective which is based in New Delhi. Raqs is
best known for its contribution to contemporary art, and has presented
work at most of the major international shows, from Documenta to the
Venice Biennale; but the collective is active in an unusually wide range
of domains, and it is this breadth that gives their work its
originality and scope. The members of Raqs were co-curators of Manifesta
7, The European Biennial of Contemporary Art which took place in
Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy in the summer of 2008.
Raqs Media Collective was formed in 1992 after its three members graduated together from the prestigious Mass Communications Research Centre at the Jamia Milia Islamia university in Delhi. During the rest of the 1990s, Raqs made a number of strikingly original documentary films, including In the Eye of the Fish (1997), Present Imperfect, Future Tense (1999) and a thirteen-part television series, Growing Up (1995), which display many of the themes that the collective has continued to explore and develop in its subsequent work: the urban landscape and experience, the meaning and uses of media and technology, the nature of knowledge and what it means to learn, and the idea of creativity which in their work becomes not only an artistic impulse but also a wider human faculty associated with the capacity of individuals and societies for imaginative and ethical innovation. These films show Raqs strenuously avoiding conventional tropes of documentary narrative, whose relationship to sedimented forms of power strikes them keenly, and searching for new kinds of flow and coherence.
In 1999, the members of Raqs Media Collective were invited to participate in the development of a strategy for the public broadcasting of documentary films in India, a discussion which led to the foundation of the Public Service Broadcasting Trust, still the main engine of documentary film production and viewership in India. More significantly for Raqs’ own work, this thinking took them into the new debates about knowledge, culture and technology that had become prominent with the rise of the Internet, and led to a search for new forms of production and dissemination of knowledge and cultural material.
In 2001 Raqs cofounded The Sarai Programme at CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The word sarai, or caravansarai, common to many Central Asian and Indian languages, refers to the shelters for travellers, sometimes large and extravagant, that traditionally dotted the cities and highways of that part of the world, facilitating travel and commerce but also enabling the exchange of stories and ideas.
Serving the function, variously, of research centre, publishing house, cafe, conference centre, cinema, software laboratory and studio for digital art and design, Sarai is striking for its networked structure. Through its institutional partnerships, the research fellowships it provides each year, its residencies for visiting artists, researchers and programmers, multiple email lists, and many informal collaborations, Sarai has developed a large network that allows it to accumulate a vast range of knowledge and opinion from across the world and to make it available in many forms, places and languages.
“Cybermohalla”, the network of media laboratories established by Sarai in slum areas of Delhi, has led to a particularly impressive collaboration between members of Sarai and groups of young writers, artists and thinkers from these areas; while collaborations with programmers have led to “OPUS”, an online experiment in artistic production inspired by the working practices of the free software movement.
Based in Delhi since its foundation, Raqs Media Collective nonetheless has a complex relationship to location. The city of Delhi is very often the subject of their work, and in their engagement with modernity they often display a lived relationship with myths and histories from South Asia and its wider region. They are, however, resistant to the label “Indian” since, they argue, it represents an abstraction so enormous that it can explain nothing about them, and prefer to talk about themselves simply as “from Delhi”. Highly sensitive to intellectual and cultural currents from everywhere else in the world, they are cynical of the language of multiculturalism, identity and nationalism and prefer to find other languages with which to narrate personal and social histories.
Monica coedited Sarai Reader 07: Frontiers, Sarai Reader 06: Turbulence, Sarai Reader 05: Bare Acts, Sarai Reader 04: Crisis / Media, Sarai Reader 03: Shaping Technologies, Sarai Reader 02: The Cities of Everyday Life, and Sarai Reader 01: Public Domain.
Monica earned her M.A. in English Literature at Delhi University and her B.A. (Hons) in Mass Communications at Delhi University.
Watch Monica’s Incommunicado 05 Interview. Read Elena Bernardini in dialogue with Raqs Media Collective.