The Bradford’s National Museum project is drawing on action research approaches. This means we are exploring our core questions through doing, through trying things out and through experimentation. One of the ways we are doing this – a key aspect of our research design – is to use an exhibition (opening to the public on 15th March 2019), halfway through the three-year project, as a way of exploring how the museum can bring its collections and themes to issues which generate interest and energy in Bradford and how Bradford’s stories can open up new and distinctive ways of interpreting the museum’s collections.
Drawing on the strands of research from the first phase of the project – including open conversations with lots of different people in Bradford – we’ve decided that the exhibition will explore how different communities in Bradford have made their own worlds by bypassing and confronting national power structures and mainstream media. In particular it will explore how people from Bradford have recorded their own histories, created their own cultural spheres and made political and social change and the ways they have done this using local-to-local and alternative distribution networks and by adapting or re-purposing available technologies.
We’re telling 15 such stories, the majority of which are being developed in collaboration with people in Bradford who have a stake in telling the story. We are exploring stories under three sub-themes which indicate different strategies people in Bradford have taken in dealing with power and powerful media.
In a strand we are calling ‘Create: Make your own world’ we’ll be exploring how people have used sound and vision technology to keep in touch with people and places elsewhere. We’ll explore how studio photography (such as those taken in Belle Vue Studio archive in Manningham) and changes in technology have shaped the way we take, keep and send family photographs, how cassettes were used to tape and send audio letters through the post through and how the effects of convergence of these technologies on mobile phone offers new and different possibilities today. We’ll also be exploring how technologies of amplification, narrowcast, broadcast and mobile technologies are used by people in different ways to create Islamic soundscapes between mosques and people’s homes.
A second strand ‘Bypass: Build alternatives’ is inspired by the DIY culture of Bradford, it will identify how people have set up their own media and communications and their own distribution networks. It will tell the story of one of our key collaborators BCB (Bradford Community Broadcasting), an internationally-recognised community radio station with over 200 volunteer presenters producing radio that reflects the cultural diversity of Bradford and and Fast FM, the station which successfully applied for Bradford’s first Restricted Service Licence (RSL), becoming the first Muslim RSL radio station in 1992. We’ll take a close look at the innovative Bradford Heritage Recording Unit, run by Bradford Council from 1983 until 2001 which concentrated on telling ‘history from below’ using people’s memories and their everyday experiences through recorded oral histories and photography. We’ll also explore Bradford’s Polish and Ukrainian communities who, displaced from their homelands by the Second World War, used their own media to help build their identities as communities in exile as well 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.
Finally we’ll be looking at ‘Confront: Make change’. This strand will look more directly at the negative representation of Bradford and its communities and explore ways in which they have been challenged. 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. We’ll be exploring the Asian Youth Movement, formed in Bradford and other cities in the 1970s in response to racism across the UK. In Bradford, the Asian Youth Movement used 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 is now seen as a turning point in race relations in this country.
We’re including two original artworks: 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.
Informing the rest of the research project
The exhibition – alongside other strands of work that are ongoing – will be used to inform the research agenda for the rest of the research project. As we move into the post-exhibition phase of the project the aim will be to create deeper understanding of the dynamics of the connections and potential connections between the museum and its place. This is something we can only do by seeing the museum, it’s collections and themes, through lots of different people’s eyes and – through action – bringing some of the possibilities to life.