Or how Buraq came back to Delhi without the Prophet and Angola became the first nation to visit the sun.


In Mehrauli, not far from Qutab Minar or Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, one finds Hauz-i-Shamsi. On the steps of Agrasen ki Baoli well in New Delhi I meet Anand Vivek Taneja, friend and a designated water reservoir expert. Inside the prominent well he tells me the legend of the reservoir Hauz-i-Shamsi. In 1230 AD the Delhi Sultan Shams-ud-din Iltumish had a dream. In the dream Prophet Muhammad appeared, instructing the Sultan to build a water tank at a certain place marked by the hoof print of the Buraq, a trace from the legendary “night journey”. Due to the Qur’an the Prophet rode on a horse-like creature, known as Buraq, back and forth from Mecca to Jerusalem and ascended to the seventh heaven, all in one strange night in the 7th century. As traveling the heavens the Prophet must have got tired as he took a rest in what is now called Mehrauli, where he let Buraq walk about. Eventually Sultan Iltumish acknowledged the dream of his by digging a public hauz (water reservoir) at the place, suggesting a light future ahead for Delhi’s residents (as Hauz-i-Shamsi translates into “sunny water tank”). 800 years later, in the spring 2010, Buraq floats on the water, revisiting the sarai[1] of the night’s journey in Hauz-i-Shamsi (figure1).[2]

Buraq - whose name means “lightning or the shining” - silently, drifts in the tank suffused with waste. There one has a chance to renew her glory, to make her shine and stand out from the other debris in the dirty puddle. By calling # +91 9873562911, connecting sacred and profane, Buraq bursts out in light and sound.[3]


Figure 1: Buraq in Hauz-i-Shamsi[4]

2. ICARUS 13

In Luanda, capital of Angola, a spaceship take off. Its name is Icarus 13 and it is the first spaceship in history to realize the amazing effort reach the sun. A journey inspired by the words of Samora Machel, Mozambique’s first presidents after independence; “Africans will get to the Sun, but during the night so that they won’t get burned.”[5] Playing with a notion of the ultimate failure of Greek mythology’s anti-hero Icarus, who when escaping the imprisonment of King Minos, boldly flew too close to the sun opposed to his father’s command, melting the wax of his wings attaching the delicate feathers, which instantly lead to a horrifying death. But whilst the Greek Icarus misdirected his airy hubris to an earthly fall, Icarus 13 however is turned into a success story. By exploiting the utopian architectural structures from Portuguese colonial era and Soviet Brutalist architecture from the Russian presence in the country after the Cold War, Icarus 13 is born (figure 2).    Well, even though the event didn’t really occur as a historical momentum it exists in the form of the event of an installation. Still, the processes of getting ready for the take-off is apparent – the workers, the ship, the inspection of the machinery, and the light beams – everything is documented by photographs and models of an actual journey. Ready for departure.


Figure 2: Icarus 13, installation spaceship[6]


Two geographies, and two dreams of an utopian distant reappearing as brought down from the heavens. Artist Vishal Rawlley’s work Hauz-i-Shamsi beam’s the Buraq back from sacred land to the urban crowd of a perfectly ordinary Delhi neighborhood. Breaking through the separation of dream-world from life-world by connecting the two as offering a direct telephone line, opening up for new spaces of dreaming in the midst of the Sultan’s structure. Artist Kiluanji Kia Henda’s work Icarus 13 equally transcends the project of utopia down to earth and then back again via an ironic mythology of a bold dream, finally being realized by reusing existing architecture. Realized however only in the dream-world, conveying an image of literally being spaced out and smuggled back in to the life-world, reusing the structures of one dream – for Kiluanji Kia Henda that dream is both the utopian socialist project and the self-ironic space journey ironically playing on the (post)colonial image of Africa, for Vishal Rawlley the dream is the reenactment of a myth descended to earth where the destination is found to be equally sacral and profanely murky, utilizing the image of the urban condition of the “developing urban”  - to create another. In these events past, present and future become inseparable from each other as the dream absorbs the moment and put it on hold. A state of dreaming Sebald beautifully puts into words:


“I suppose it is submerged memories that give to dreams their curious air of hyper-reality. But perhaps there is something else as well, something nebulous, gauze-like, through which everything one sees in a dream seems, paradoxically, much clearer. A pond becomes a lake, a breeze becomes a storm, a handful of dust is a desert, a grain of sulphur in the blood is a volcanic inferno. What manner of the theatre is it, in which we are at once playwright, actor, stage manager, scene painter and audience?”[7]


In the space of the dream the event become some kind of simultaneity, an at-the-same-time, filtered though the porous grid of the gauze. Both of the projects conveys the moment when present and past suddenly unfolds as a disjunctive synthesis of turning the back on both colonial history and postcolonialism, as we will see, negotiating the incoherent and instable world in making by suggesting an alternative history-writing as well as an alternative future yet to come.[8] An ambiguous world in making where a deeply complex human condition is constituted, not by dialectic relationships, but by an intersection of provisional representations such as class, labor, race, gender, ideology, religion, and commodity, and in which process both of the projects inevitable are co-producers of and by. Remembering the conflictive terrains we are dealing with, Walter Benjamin’s words seem acutely urgent:


“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not an exception but a rule. (…) We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism.”[9]


Claiming this, we live in a state of constant fear, on the verge of disaster or violence; the emergency is not the exception but the rule, a claim that constitutes the paradigm of modern politics.[10] According to the writer Alex De Waal, the emergency is both a descriptor; it describes the situation, the state of suffering and violence, and a prescription; it forces us to act. So “emergencies are an opportunity for the extension of political power and coercive administration, albeit with the greater goods as the goal.”[11] It extends the power of the sovereign and approaches a political future ahead. Emergency in this perspective can further be understood not only as a single event but also as a verb, as something emerging toward something new, a state of newness, a temporality. Well then, how does the temporality of the emergency operate?


The emergency interrupts the linear understanding of the future as a progressing linear movement, like a discordant tone disturbing the chord breaking it down to separate clave patterns. Instead of cantering right into the future one is brought back to respond to the present state of the emergency. That is to see what is happening through what has happened, and reversed. The response then is inseparable from the past, as one is forced to address the present to be able to redeem the past and equally address the past to be order to issue a response to the emergency. It is a way of living the past in the present, addressing the future in a different manner; as something incomplete but with certain potentialities. The event of an emergency is a fold of living history in such way.[12]


Hauz-i-Shamsi’s and Icarus 13’s strength lies in their relationship to the contemporary history-in-making. They feature an embodied criticality where Kiluanji Kia Henda and Vishal Rawlley recognize their own embeddedness in the very same condition they attempt to critique. Rogoff state that this “criticality, is a state of duality in which one is at one and the same time, both empowered and disempowered, knowing and unknowing. (…) So it would seem that criticality is in itself a mode of embodiment, a state from which one cannot exit or gain a critical distance but which rather marries our knowledge and our experience in ways that are not complimentary”.[13] It isn’t possible either to escape the emergency or its realm, but it is possible to operate due to these conditions.



In an online interview the Angolan contemporary poet Ana Paula Tavares says, “Luanda is the start of a city that from time to time ceases to be a city. It lives well with its ghosts, but it also lives badly with them.”[14] Like Luanda, Delhi exists in a collapsed fold of history, which only partly is organized by a grand narrative and a master plan, like so many other cities. If “ghost” here is understood not only as a fiend or a kind of embodied past manifested in the present, but also as a way of making politics quietly, in disguise, alongside the regulated urban trajectories, as a way of operating in a state of emergency, then one is on the track of grasping something acute about the contemporary constellation of the postcolonial city (in any geography).[15] It is a way of thinking about a group of people who doesn’t recognize themselves as citizens, entitled to belong a city or to a state, opposed to those who have a feeling of being eligible in at least some situation. To navigate the legal framework of the urban condition in a state of an emergency (that is to say virtually always, due to what is claimed by Agamben) as way of taking into account the manifest structures, new and old, to recognize oneself as a “trespasser” of certain borders but make use of that position. Although what would be the operational mode for millions of slum dwellers, migrants and poor, could suddenly change and turn, not only the ineligible into a trespasser, but also the recognized citizen, which is the consequence of a deeply normalized politics of planning, development and conflict. In these events the potential emergency is lying in wait.

“The building of a military airstrip, highway, dam, resort, or a housing estate sanctioned by a masterplan can suddenly turn people into trespassers, and their way of life into a culture of trespassing. (…) Sometimes it may mean that the trespassers may be present and visible and pretend to be what they are not, and then it is they who have the right-of-way. This makes them impostors of presence, pretenders in place.”[16]

Taking a look back at Buraq and the spaceship Icarus 13, what are they if not trespassers or even impostors in the city? As ghosts they return from the past, claiming credibility in the present. Buraq lands in the middle of the old Sultan’s structure (the hauz), now part of Delhi Development Authority’s scheme, included in the general master plan over Delhi as a case of heritage restoration. Indifferently she floats in the filthy water, equal to the debris around her. But unexpectedly she starts to glow and make noise as she’s responding to someone’s call (see figure 3). A new space for imagination is abruptly cracked open, for who the hell is she?


Figure 3: Buraq by night[17]


Kiluanji Kia Henda’s spaceship equally claims eligibility at the same time as it plays on a veritable scam when reusing existing architecture of a city that by no logic have ever contributed to a visit to the sun. Icarus 13 appropriates not only an environment developed by historical colonial masters represented by two differently political ideologies, the Portuguese and the Soviets, but also a space in history. The space journey is inscribed in the colonial history by the remaking of a kind of spaced out architecture; monuments resembling actual erected spaceships, bunkers reiterated as observatory’s so many times that they have stopped being bunkers and turned into observatory’s (figure 4). History become history.[18]


Figure 4: Astronomical Observatory[19]

W.G. Sebald in an earlier citation mentioned  a “gauze-like” drape which dreams are filtered through and which make them seem realer than real. The texture of the gauze is a kind of grid, something material interpretable as a communicative device or a translator, through which dreams speak to us and become utterly present. It is not only a veil or a discoursive metaphor, but also a material apparatus in the immanent world. Here, in the artwork’s, the material realm is of course absolutely present; as the porous structure the artist’s are making use of and formulate questions in relation to. The spatial categories, or conceptualized spaces, i.e. the built environment; the architecture, function both as these “representations of space” and as the (dream)gauze:

“’Representations of space’—act to ’pin down’ inseparable connections between places, people, actions, and things. (...) These diagrams make possible a ’relation of non-relation’ that opens each constituent element onto a multiplicity of relations between forces. In this multiplicity of connotations, it is always possible to do something different in and with the city than is specified by these domains of power while, at the same time, acting as if one remains operative inevitably only within them.”[20]

When claiming, “one remains operative inevitably only within them,” it is really a way of recognizing the operative spaces of the “embodied criticality”. Well, we will have to acknowledge the forces of the built and natural environment - certain bodies, certain architecture: tamed or untamed, profane or sacred – and map the trajectories to understand how certain manoeuvres or certain movements are being made, to track social change and resistance. The images of Icarus 13 or the encounter with Buraq in the hauz translates the language of things into the language of humans. A communication that is not external to us (even though we pick up the phone to call Buraq), but something that happens within, within the very realm of language, still closely attached to the material reality (seeping through the gauze). Through this we can deconstruct and follow the forces of a language that operates within us and within the material world (including nature and ecology) to trace certain social relations, movements or events, to unbound what is really at stake and how we are embedded in theses processes. The translation between human and things are thus deeply political.[21] A certain translation which both projects make space for and leave open for each and everyone to jack into.


Figure 5: Satellite image showing the hauz hedged in by dense urbanity[22]

Is it possible to recognize an urgency to address the changing grounds of the soil for the two artists, and in that case, has it a potential to open up for something different? To stretch open a plural space of singular dreams, a spacing of the dream itself?[23] Well, on the first question the answer is yes. Even though the two projects operate within each defined territory, both on a discoursive and material latitude, and work alongside those preexisting lines to a certain extent, it is the condition that offers a potential for making something different. I read on the back on Raqs Media Collective brilliant essay collection Seepage, “If questions were to seep through walls, what would answers lean on?”[24] They continue:


“By itself seepage is not an alternative form; it even needs the structure to become what it is – but it creates new conditions in which structures become fragile and are rendered difficult to sustain. It enables the play of an alternative imagination, and so we begin seeing faces and patterns on the wall that change as the seepage ebbs and flows.”[25]


Standing there by the water of Hauz-i-Shamsi, the more one speaks to Buraq, the more she glows – “tracing the outlines of a forgotten dream.”[26] For as she glows, she leaks, together you have created the seepage. The light and sound has suddenly turned her into the center of attention. The elderly bring her back to memory, and she’s reiterated for the youth. Sultan Iltumish’s dream is once again present. Someone swim over to accompany her in the water, to touch her, to feel her body made of aluminum, ignoring the signs telling you that you shouldn’t (well, would you?!) - so you consequently become a trespasser. A trespasser of Delhi Development Authority’s property, but also a trespasser of temporality, with a capacity to unbound time and intensify the seepage between the dream-world and the life-world.


Figure 6: The sun from the space view[27]

And as I stand in the front of the sun, a sun that slightly resembles an egg yolk, the myth of Icarus reminiscences. How the sublime feeling of flying embracing Icarus deceived him to fly too close to the sun. It calls for attention how very fatal the history that we ourselves partakes in. But Kiluanji isn’t as near as negative, for he navigates the spaceship with the skills only acquired by a true trickster, ever so slightly letting us believe that he was the first man entering the surface of the sun – during night when it was cold.



“Lead, as I do, the flown-away virtue back to earth - yes, back to body and life; that it may give the earth its meaning, a human meaning! May your spirit and your virtue serve the meaning of the earth... Man and man's earth are still unexhausted and undiscovered.”[28]

When I speak to Anand over mail again in October he is back in New York working on his PhD thesis. Surprisingly cheerful he tells me that Buraq eventually drowned in the tank. And I start wondering if the Prophet deliberately took her back to heaven or if the tragic loss was a premeditated murder, where the creature suffocated in what where the very water hole of the community, now a filthy puddle, it once was the muse inspired the building of. Either way, the temptation to throw stones at it was too strong for the local children and I guess everything’s got its duration.


Icarus 13 is continuously travelling, touring the biennales and exhibition spaces of the art world, ever so patiently constructing the myth, bit by bit, of how Africa once were the first continent to go to the sun by Angolan mission, making it sound more and more convincing as the story is repeated.



Hauz-i-Shamsi is an artwork by Vishal Rawlley (based in Delhi), accompanied by an essay written by Anand Vivek Taneja (based in New York and Delhi), and curated by Gitanjali Dang. The installation was “exhibited” in the Haus-i-Shamsi water reservoir during the spring 2010 as part of the beam-me-up project.


Icarus 13 (2006), an artwork based on photographic images and a model, made by Kiluanji Kia Henda (Luanda), was exhibited internationally at the first time at the 8th Guangzhou Art Triennial (2008) and has since travelled exhibitions and biennales world wide.


Thanks to Anand Vivek Taneja och Stina Edblom.




Agamben, G. (1998) Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press


Balay, J. (2010) "Theses on the Philosophy of History": Reflections on the Temporality of an Emergency. [online] Available at:

Accessed 11/11/2011

Benjamin, S. (2005) “Touts, Pirates and Ghosts.” Bare Life, Sarai Reader, pp. 242-254.

Benjamin, W. (1999) Illuminations. London: Pimlico


Burak_youtubex (2010) [video online] Available at:

Accessed 10/11/2011

The Caravan Magazine [online] Available at: Accessed for images 06/11/2011

Cardoso, P. (2010) “The Oral Tradition is for me a Cult”, Interview with Ana Paula Tavares. [online] Available at: Accessed 13/11/2011

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (2004) A Thousand Plateaus. London: Continuum

De Waal, A. (2008). Whose Emergency Is It Anyway? Dreams, Tragedies and Traumas in the Humanitarian Encounter. [online] Available at: Accessed 06/11/2011

Edblom, S. (2011) “Third Half”: New Horizons – African Contemporary Art and Postcolonial Politics. [online] Available at: Accessed 08/11/2011

Liang, L. (2005) “Porous Legalities and Avenues of Participation.” Bare Life, Sarai Reader, pp. 6-17


Mestre, M. (2010) Kiluanji Kia Henda’s Rampancy – From the riennial of Guangzhou to Experimenta Design: Two Projects. [online] Available at: Accessed 08/11/2011

Nancy, J-L. (2000) Being Singular Plural. Stanford: Stanford University Press

Raqs Media Collective (2010) Seepage. Berlin: Sternberg Press

Rogoff, I. (2006) ‘Smuggling’ – An Embodied Criticality. [online] Available at: Accessed 08/11/2011

Sebald, W.G. (2002) The Rings of Saturn. London: Vintage


Simone, A-M. People as Infrastructure. Public Culture 2004; 16(3): 407-429

Steyerl, H. (2006) The Language of Things. [online] Available at: Accessed 11/11/2011


Taneja, A.V. (2010) Buraq and the Hauz-e Shamsi. Or, the residue of dreams.

[online] Available at: Accessed 08/11/2011



[1] In Hindi, Urdu, Persian and Turkish sarai means an enclosed space in the city where travellers and caravans can find shelter, a place to rest in the middle of the journey, consequently it’s a place of departure.

[2] Taneja, A.V. (2010) Buraq and the Hauz-e Shamsi. Or, the residue of dreams. [online]

[3] Burak_youtubex (2010) [online video]

[4] Courtesy Vishal Rawlley

[5] Meste, M. (2010) Kiluanji Kia Hende’s Rampancy – From the Triennial of Guangzhou to Experimenta Design: Two Projects. [online]

[6] Courtesy Kiluanji Kia Henda

[7] Sebald, W.G. (2002) The Rings of Saturn. London: Vintage p. 79-80

[8] Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (2004) A Thousand Plateaus. London: Continuum

[9] Benjamin, W. (1999) Illuminations. London: Pimlico p. 257

[10] Agamben, G. (1998) Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press

[11] De Waal, A. (2008) Whose Emergency is it Anyways? Dreams, Tragedies and Traumas in the Humanitarian Encounter. [online]

[12] Balay, J. (2010) “Theses on the Philosophy of History”: Reflections on the Temporality of an Emergency. [online]

[13] Rogoff, I. (2006) ‘Smuggling’ – An embodied Criticality. [online] p. 2

[14] Cardoso, P. (2010) “The Oral Tradition is for me Cult,” Interview with Ana Paula Tavares. [online]

[15] Benjamin, S. (2005) “Touts, Pirates and Ghosts.” Bare Life, Sarai Reader, pp. 242-254

[16] Raqs Media Collective (2010) Seepage. Berlin: Sternberg Press p. 80

[17] Courtesy The Caravan Magazine

[18] Edblom, S. (2011) “Third Half”: New Horizons – African Contemporary Art and Postcolonial Politics. [online]

[19] Courtesy Kiluanji Kia Henda

[20] Simone, A-M. People as Infrastructure. Public Culture 2004; 16(3): 407-429, p. 409

[21] Steyerl (2006) The language of Things. [online]

[22] Courtesy Vishal Rawlley

[23] Nancy, J-L. (2000) Being Singular Plural. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

[24] Raqs Media Collective (2010)

[25] Raqs Media Collective cited in Liang, L. (2005) “Porous Legalities and Avenues of Participation.” Bare Life, Sarai Reader, pp. 6-17

[26] Taneja (2010)

[27] The sun from the space view. Courtesy Kiluanji Kia Henda

[28] Nancy (2000) p. ix

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