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By Nima Poovaya-Smith on

Behind the scenes of our ‘Above the Noise’ artworks

As we launch our new exhibition Above the Noise, Nima Poovaya-Smith takes a look at the ideas behind two very special commissions.

Above the Noise is a collaborative exhibition exploring 15 stories which demonstrate some of the ingenuity, motivation and activism of communities in Bradford. In this post, curator, speaker and writer Nima Poovaya-Smith examines the origins of two artworks included in the exhibition.


Above the Noise includes two installations by internationally renowned artists. In A Season Outside, Amar Kanwar provides a reflective yet penetrating exploration of the often morally ambiguous imperatives underpinning conflict and the enforced movement of peopleBasir Mahmood’s moon sighting is a complex, many-layered work about taking on different identities and multiple perspectives.

These installations are sited alongside other works where the people of Bradford invite us to view a city far more diverse, fiercely individualistic and richly nuanced than ever presented by the media. The commonalities between the works go far beyond the use of media technologies: they reveal to us both the absurdity and danger of reductionist approaches.

Basir Mahmood: ‘moon sighting’

Basir’s initial concept for his Above the Noise commission involved the replication of outdoor winter weather in an indoor setting. There would be an intensive programme of filming with a variety of people from Bradford, taking place in an intentionally chilled museum setting—not exactly freezing but not comfortable either. ‘Otherness’ would be further heightened by people providing individual responses to a common script. It promised to be revelatory and fascinating.

Still from 'moon sighting' by Basir Mahmood
Still from moon sighting by Basir Mahmood

Unfortunately—and in spite of his international stature, permanent base in Amsterdam and the formal support of the University of Leeds—Basir was refused the visa he needed to travel to Bradford and create the work. Basir’s creative agility allowed him to rapidly alter course and transform this setback into something rich and unusual: moon sighting was born out of necessity. With admirable ingenuity, Basir has produced a work using footage already taken on an earlier visit to Yorkshire, juxtaposed with footage from Mirpur, Pakistan. The resultant work explores how perspective influences one’s notions of identity.

Still from moon sighting by Basir Mahmood
Still from moon sighting by Basir Mahmood

Amar Kanwar: ‘A Season Outside’

Amar explored a number of concepts for his commission, including the idea of developing a script around the beautiful, bizarrely shaped and extremely rare Thompson’s Revolver Camera held in the museum’s collection. He finally (and presciently) decided to show a work he had created earlier: A Season Outside. The film uses the Wagah border between India and Pakistan as a prism through which other conflicts and displacements are also viewed.

Still from A Season Outside by Amar Kanwar
Still from A Season Outside by Amar Kanwar

Taking current tensions in the sub-continent into consideration, A Season Outside’s carefully crafted narratives about the dynamics of violence and non-violence have turned out to be eerily timely.

Above the Noise opens today and is at the National Science and Media Museum until 19 June 2019.


Nima Poovaya-Smith is Director of Alchemy Anew.  Recent projects she has curated include Sacred Sounds: Sikh Music Traditions and the First World War (2017–18); A Sense of Line: Drawing by Imtiaz Dharker (2017); The Haunting: Ghosts of Every Shade (2016); The Hidden Diamond (2015); Loretta Braganza: Clay Journeys (2015); From the Shadows of History: Princess Victoria Gowramma and Maharaja Dalip Singh (2015); and Love Beyond Measure: The Legend of Sohni and Mahiwal (2014). Previous posts include Head of Special Projects, National Science and Media Museum; Director of Arts, Arts Council Yorkshire; and Senior Curator, Bradford Museums and Galleries.

Nima has contributed to numerous international and national publications including books and journals on subjects ranging from contemporary art, Indian jewellery, textiles, and curatorial and audience engagement practice. She has presented papers at numerous national and international conferences. She is Senior Visiting Fellow at the Department of Fine Arts, Art History and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds, a Trustee of Opera North and Harewood House Trust, and a patron of The Leeds Library. She was awarded an OBE in 2016 for her services to the arts.

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