Silent Spaces - Breaking the silence of iconic British cultural venues

  • Souvid Datta
  • Natalja Safronova

Reclaiming iconic cultural spaces, performance halls and empty museums that have been out of action during the COVID-19 pandemic, and breaking their silences with new music, dance and hope, Silent Spaces' is a powerful new project, a 6 part series of videos directed by Souvid Datta featuring lead artist Soumik Datta and a diverse community of musicians, dancers and artists

Core Team
Director - Souvid Datta
Producer - Melanie Cura Daball
Lead Artist - Soumik Datta
Project Manager - Minal Mehta
Lighting Gaffer and Second Camera - Jerzy Gudjonsson
Documentary DOP - Natalja Safronova
A creative lockdown response driven by a pervading sense of Covid-induced personal and professional loneliness, Silent Spaces was envisioned by musician, composer and TV presenter Soumik Datta (Rhythms of India – BBC Four), and directed by award-winning filmmaker Souvid Datta.

It sees the brothers join a diverse team of British Asian, black and ethnic minority musicians and dancers as they venture into iconic venues like British Museum and The Royal Albert Hall in London, as well as Depot Mayfield in Manchester and The Sage in Gateshead.

Produced by charity SDA, the resulting six films explore resonant themes in keeping with the choice of venue - confronting issues around mental health, activism, the environment, colonisation and identity. Ultimately - by reconnecting and facing these pertinent and often uncomfortable issues through creativity - the performers were rewarded with a sense of hope for the future of the arts industry and its role in shaping cultural conversations for the better.

The series of films were released in April, in partnership with the venues, Arts Council England, Timberland, WeTransfer, Bagri Foundation and Dishoom, coinciding with an album release, a behind the scenes documentary film commissioned by WePresent and a radio documentary co-produced with BBC Radio 3.
British Museum Messengers
Theme: Colonialism, Power, Race

The journey into central London’s treasured museum was a painful one for the participants. Souvid was asking himself why the injustice of unequal power relations between the United Kingdom and it's colonial subjects, in the museum, had been celebrated for so long.

Brothers Soumik and Souvid, struggled with their complicity in this dynamic as well as the Museum’s role to accurately record history. Yet the staff welcomed and supported these debates, making it overwhelmingly an exercise of empowerment and self-emancipation, albeit a difficult one. Soumik recalls imagining the figure of a young woman of colour standing tall in the middle of the museum singing words of 'forgiveness' and 'love' - and it was this vision that led to the final creation in the museum.

It culminated in a song called Messengers written and composed by Soumik and sung in unison between the composer and rising star soul singer, Amahla. This particular journey was taken with Yasmin Ogilvie on tenor saxophone and dance artists Monique Jonas and Ihsaan de Banya who shared the space, interweaving between the explicit histories of the museum.

The pivotal spoken word poetry written and performed by Soumik Datta beside the bust of museum founder/slave owner Sir Hans Sloane, addresses the burden of forgiveness, the mental health cost of racism and the disorienting pain of the wider immigrant experience.
Depot Mayfield (Manchester) Movement
Theme: Physicality, Collective Dance, Breaking Free
The impact of lockdown on the body and mind has perhaps been most felt by dancers. These creatives, used to taking up space and soaring across stages, have been confined to meagre stretches across their kitchens and bedrooms.

The track and episode invites the viewer to empathise with the plight of all those of us deprived of the power of moving, as individuals, as a group and as collectives. The beats rise from soft, organic taps to an all in Electronica track charting the positive impact that movement, dancing, letting loose has on the body and our mental health.

The episode is set within the great arches of Depot Mayfield in Manchester. Steeped in a history of olympic swimming teams, baths, a Post Office and a train station, the industrial Mayfield area, now repurposed as a nightclub, embodies the true spirit of rejuvenation and change.

Breaking free of lockdown constraints and celebrating being alive, Movement is performed by Soumik on live electronics with a team of prolific Manchester based contemporary dancer-choreographers: Dominic Coffey, Juliana Fapohunda, Karishma Young, Theo Fapohunda, Amber Calland and Daisy Bell.
Royal Albert Hall Silent Spaces
Theme: Societal Role of Cultural Venues
The Royal Albert Hall, on its 150th anniversary provides the location for the title song and second episode of Silent Spaces celebrating the special relationship between creative artists, venues as second homes and audiences that are transported away from their daily lives through experiencing live performance together.

At a time when these historic cultural places of communal importance are lying dormant due to Covid 19 - yearning to be filled with life again - a small and diverse cast of artists comes out of lockdown loneliness to rekindle and share hope through music.

A beautiful duet of strings rings through empty corridors, with Midori Jaeger and Meera Raja on cello; while Rosabella Gregory’s uplifting vocals and arrangement propel the fluid dance movements of Kathak dancer, Mithun Gill - leading audiences along a rare journey through the venue’s hidden corners, backstage and up towards the stage. Soumik composes, song -writes and performs on sarod while singing lead vocals and rendering a powerful spoken word poem calling attention to the plight of creatives during the pandemic and our collective need for shared cultural spaces.
Hawkwood College Fields of Hope
Theme: Climate Futures, Sustainability, Nature
Surrounded by green farmland and forest, Hawkwood College is an enchanting Grade II listed 19th Century education centre and artist residence in the Cotswolds (Gloucestershire) advocating for sustainability in the creative industries.

Set across it’s 42 acres, this third episode tells a tale of three young black siblings discovering magical musicians while playing in the Hawkwood grounds. Offering a musical message of a greener, fairer, more mindful future, renowned cellist Matthew Barley and up-and-coming British Asian singer Ashnaa Sasikaran, join composer, lyricist and sarod player Soumik Datta to perform ‘Fields of Hope’.

The track builds on nature’s sounds and harmonies to critique consumerism and overconsumption, while paying tribute to the venue’s conservational ecosystem - shooting across Hawkwood’s orchards, greenhouses and natural waste management systems - highlighting that venues are not just their respective buildings but exist within their wider surroundings.

Ultimately, the musicians help the children rediscover their role within and relationship to nature, gaining an urgent awareness of humanity’s climate impact.
Sage, Gateshead Angel Wings
Theme: Resilience, Overcoming Hardship & Loss
Set in the windswept town of Gateshead, this episode celebrates the resilience of the North East, a part of the country that is still suffering from losing its industries where unemployment is the highest and neighbourhoods continue to be deprived.

An homage to the people, their fight for hope, championing the differently able as well as the immigrant communities of the region, ‘Angel Wings’ was written by Soumik Datta and sung by Newcastle based folk rock singer Ruth Patterson.

Supported by Soumik on sarod and vocal harmonies and Calum Howard on piano, the chorus alludes to the region’s mining history, the invention of the electric bulb (in Gateshead) and Antony Gormley’s iconic ‘Angel of the North’. The film narrative follows the journeys of two North East based dancers Lila Naruse and Benedicta Valentina discovering the joy of dance once again after a prolonged period of pandemic stillness.
King’s Cross, Genesis Cinema, The Lexington Shadows
Theme: Mental Health, Vulnerability, Reunion
Returning to Soumik’s home in London, this final episode addresses the psychological battles that lockdown forced many creatives to reckon with - addressing the enduring stigma associated with mental health, particularly within BIPOC communities.

Filmed within our most beloved and missed second homes, from the independent cinema Genesis in East London, to the regular live performance pub The Lexington, Shadows invites audiences to see the opportunity we are presented with now to engender a more constructive and healthy societal mindset, imagining also a new future for the cultural spaces that give us a sense of identity.

In the weeks before the end of lockdown, the striking King’s Cross Station and multi-purpose cultural hub hosts the track’s finale - a fitting backdrop where the artists, like so many others, come together and move forward in new directions.

Featuring Yelfirs Valdes on trumpet, John Falsetto on vocals and Soumik on piano, sarod and vocals, the film also follows the stories of three dancers and co-choreographers Nikkita Chadha, Maya Yoncali and Bryony Harrison.
Official Documentary
Commissioned by WePresent by WeTransfer

Read the full article here
Documentary Credits
Director: Melanie Cura Daball
Director of Photography: Natalja Safronova
Starring: Soumik Datta & Souvid Datta
Co-Producer: WePresent
Co-Producer: Soumik Datta Arts
Production Company: SDFilms
Project Manager: Minal Mehta
Sound Design: Adam Woodhams

Project Tags

Companies

  • The Space logo

    The Space

    • Publishing
  • WeTransfer logo

    WeTransfer

    • Publishing
  • Arts Council England logo

    Arts Council England

    • Arts and Culture
  • British Museum logo

    British Museum

    • Arts and Culture
  • Royal Albert Hall logo

    Royal Albert Hall

    • Arts and Culture
  • T

    Timberland

    • S

      Sage Gateshead

      • B

        BBC Radio 3

        • D

          Depot Mayfield

          • H

            Hawkwood College

            • S

              Soumik Datta Arts

              Skills