Artist: Raghava KK

Artist: Raghava KK

Raghava KK is a 2013 Emerging Explorer and a pioneer in the field of “participatory art.”


6 - 12+


Arts and Music, Experiential Learning, Geography

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Raghava KK is a 2013 Emerging Explorer and pioneer in the field of “participatory art.” As an artist, Raghava has worked in media as diverse as editorial cartoons, painting, sculpture, e-books, and film. Participatory art combines these diverse media with high-tech tools such as touch-screens and EEG headsets, which measure electrical activity in the brain through a series of sensors on a wearer’s scalp. People who view Raghava’s art directly participate in it, and become artists themselves. Innovative touch-screens allow Raghava’s paintings to change for each viewer, for instance. By wearing an EEG headset, viewers of Raghava’s “Mona Lisa 2.0” watch the painting adjust to their mood and emotions. An excited viewer might see “Mona Lisa” smile and laugh, while a frustrated viewer might see her frown. Ultimately, Raghava hopes participatory art allows people to better understand themselves and each other.

“When you see the world through other people’s eyes, you have a richer understanding of who you are and why people do what they do,” he told National Geographic.


Raghava grew up in Bangalore, India. Today, Bangalore is nicknamed the “Silicon Valley of India” due to its booming technology industry. However, Raghava is quick to dismiss any connection between growing up in Bangalore and his interest in high-tech tools.

“I’m a little older than I look,” he says. “I didn’t grow up in ‘Silicon Valley of India.’ It was ‘Pensioner’s Paradise’.”

Raghava’s “traditional Indian family” surrounded itself with art. His mother is a painter, and his grandmother was a patron of music.

“Art was always a part of my life ... Did I think about it? No. Did I have it? Yes. Everything is associated with art—whether it’s death, or birth, or anything you do. Some of my earliest memories are weddings, the neighborhood.”

From an early age, Raghava navigated the myriad of cultures around Bangalore.

“I went to a Catholic school, and was brought up to be a ‘Good Samaritan’. At the end of the day, I’d go to a very traditional Hindu home, which was the only Hindu house in a predominantly Islamic neighborhood. In that sense, I got to celebrate everything.”

While a teenager, Raghava began to distinguish between “education” from “learning.”

“I think ‘education’ is what a system does to you, and ‘learning’ is what you do to yourself. Education is supposed to lead to learning. Learning requires curiosity, vulnerability, an ability to understand underlying structures, power dynamics, all of these things. And education is supposed to help you navigate that.

“Education is great. It taught me who I am in this world ... but it never taught me what I could be. I think my creativity taught me what I can be.”


“The most exciting part of my work is its collaborative nature. I have an ecosystem! And it’s so diverse ... I don’t know how to answer my problems, and it’s the ecosystem that ... provides solutions I couldn’t have even dreamt of.”


“When you’re working in such collaboration, learning to work in isolation” is difficult, Raghava says. 

“The other part that’s difficult,” Raghava says, “is to deal with boring stuff ... What’s boring is getting depth on a subject. You have a quick overview, but if you really want to test the hypothesis, you really have to do it again, and again, and again, and again ... “I see that as a problem in education. People don’t know how to be bored.”


“You can’t separate people from places,” Raghava says. “You can’t separate ideas from places. So... you have to study [geography] as little fragments.”


Raghava is developing a series a children’s books that change their geographic markers depending on the reader’s location. “If you’re in India, the food turns Indian, the places turn Indian . . . It’s the same story, but it’s sensitive to your geo-location.”

“The idea is to connect the digital and the physical,” Raghava says. “If it’s raining outside, it’s raining in the app, if it’s snowing outside, it’s snowing in the app.”

The concepts of cultural and physical geography extend beyond Raghava’s current projects, however.

“I think the world is your classroom. I think you have to use local resources ... and [learning] has to be an active process, not a passive process. You should know your space."

Raghava also encourages educators to re-evaluate how creativity is taught. He points to projects such as Pinterest, which he identifies as curation, as well as remixing YouTube videos, as examples of creativity not explored in formal education.

“I think creativity is severely misunderstood ... The act of creating is only a small sliver in the creative bandwidth.”

Putting knowledge in context is key to the way Raghava encourages students to learn. “I want to create a ... form of knowledge, where multiple tools exist, with biases, but biases can be contextualized. Like ‘oh, you’re a preppy high school kid, this is what you think life is.’ Or, ‘oh, you’ve just survived a North Korean escape, this is your outlook on life.’ Obviously, all these are valid.

“My dream is, how do you do that in art? How do you use creativity to understand this knowledge, where there are many inputs, and many outcomes?”


“I think every kid should do programming. You should know how to play with a computer. I love programming.”


“I think everyone should learn to dismantle things ... I also think everyone should have a relationship with nature—just having that human-animal touch.”

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National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

March 29, 2024

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