Above the Noise: 15 Stories from Bradford

AboveTheNoise-Daytimer 1725-3-7press
Radical Sista DJing at a daytimer in a club in Bradford. Photo by Tim Smith.
  • New collaborative exhibition showcases stories from Bradford
  • 15 March 2019 – 19 June 2019. Free to enter

A brand-new exhibition at the National Science and Media Museum explores 15 stories which demonstrate some of the ingenuity, motivation and activism of communities in Bradford to improve representations of their home district, respond to negative perceptions, or simply rise above the ‘noise’ from elsewhere and create their own cultural environments.

Above the Noise: 15 Stories from Bradford (15 March – 19 June 2019, free entry) highlights strands of activity and adaptations of technology that all demonstrate a shared effect – rising above the output of mainstream channels which don’t always depict or support the true experience of living in Bradford.

This major collaboration is part of the Bradford’s National Museum research project, which, since launching last year, has been working with partners University of Leeds, Bradford Community Broadcasting (BCB), Alchemy, Tim Smith Photos, Kahani, and Bradford Museums and Galleries to proactively develop closer connections between the National Science and Media Museum and communities and organisations in the city.

The exhibition involves numerous contributors, bringing together more than 250 objects and images to tell these stories, all of which have strong personal significance and directly reflect wider aspects of life in Bradford. It illustrates the different strategies people have applied to record their own histories, create new spaces that reflect their lives, bypass the status quo, build alternative networks, and make political and social change.

Some people have simply got on with their lives. One section – Create: Make your own world – features stories of communication between family members over time and over distance. It shows how photography is used to communicate to friends and relatives, focusing on a time before many people had their own cameras. Images from the Belle Vue Studio, once on Manningham Lane (from 1926 to 1975), document the changing communities of Bradford who posed for portraits that represented their new lives to families living elsewhere. It also looks at how alternative technologies were used to keep in touch, such as those who communicated through cassette tape recordings rather than letters or phone calls, changing the nature of the conversations they had with people across world.

In Bypass: Build alternatives visitors can see how people in Bradford have worked around mainstream structures. Motivated by music, dance, history or politics, established methods were repurposed and developed to create alternative ways of sharing culture in the city. Bradford Community Broadcasting (BCB) was set up in the 1990s and became instrumental in the campaign for full-time FM licences for community stations in the UK. It was one of the country’s first community ‘pilot stations’ in 2002, receiving its full licence when they were introduced three years later. In the process BCB created a platform for many different people to broadcast and make their own news and features. Also featured is Fast FM, the station which successfully applied for Bradford’s first Restricted Service Licence (RSL), becoming the first Muslim RSL radio station in 1992.

Also in this section is the story of Bradford’s Polish and Ukrainian communities, including those displaced from their homelands by the Second World War who used their own media to help build their identities as communities in exile. They shared their ideas of freedom and independence with Poland and Ukraine, both ruled by Communist regimes, by broadcasting anti-Soviet radio programmes and smuggling literature across the Iron Curtain, making important contributions to the independence of both nations.

Other examples include works from the Bradford Heritage Recording Unit, run by Bradford Council from 1983 until 2001. The BHRU concentrated on telling ‘history from below’ using people’s memories and their everyday experiences – recorded through oral histories and photography.

Elsewhere, images, promotional material and recollections are featured from those involved in events and activities such as Asian film clubs and Bhangra daytime discos, where people created their own cultural experiences that were not available at the time, in Bradford or anywhere else. Such events led to the UK’s first outdoor mela taking place in Bradford in 1988.

Confront: Make change shows how people have confronted or challenged national media representations, and how activists in Bradford have opposed the established status quo.

Displayed in this section are interviews with people who often find themselves approached to be the ‘voices’ of Bradford when national media stories break. Among them is Dr Martin Baines QPM (Queen’s Police Medal), who was appointed as Bradford’s first race relations officer from 1996, and was often the first point of contact for national media looking to report stories about the city’s social challenges. He talks about pioneering proactive work with Bradford’s South Asian publications and media outlets. In the same exhibit Paul Meszaros, a Bradford-based regional organiser for ‘Hope Not Hate’, argues for restraint and responsibility when reporting on complex matters.

Also covered are the campaigning techniques of the Asian Youth Movement, formed in Bradford and other cities in the 1970s in response to racism across the UK. In Bradford, self-published posters and newsletters were used to build regional and international networks, gaining prominence during the ‘Free the Bradford 12’ campaign.  In 1981, rumours emerged that fascists were heading to Manningham and petrol bombs were subsequently found in the area. The fascists didn’t come and the petrol bombs weren’t used, but 12 young Bradford men were arrested and charged with conspiracy. The 12 argued community self-defence and a newsletter was produced each day of the trial. They were ultimately acquitted in what was considered a significant verdict in terms of race relations.

In addition to these three main sections, two original artworks feature: a new commission Moon Sighting by Basir Mahmood which explores Bradford, but as it is seen from Mirpur, Pakistan, where many of Bradford’s Pakistani community have their roots; and acclaimed artist Amar Kanwar’s A Season Outside which looks at the Pakistan and India border outpost Wagah-Atari. Kanwar has said: “A Season Outside is a personal and philosophical journey through the shadows of past generations, conflicting positions, borders and time zones.”

Finally, a Common Space will be included for reflecting on and discussing these stories, which will also explore the histories of various communal meeting spaces in Bradford, and what an ideal future Common Space might be.

Director of the National Science and Media Museum, Jo Quinton-Tulloch said: “While these examples are unique to Bradford, the themes of standing up for your identity, creating positive representation, or wanting to share your own stories, are universal. We want Above the Noise to surprise and inform in equal measure, and we thank all our contributors for their wonderful input. As well as finding out more about this district and its people, the exhibition will also invite visitors to join the conversations and add their own stories of living, working in or visiting Bradford.”