SELECTED Exhibitions

The Scar


The Scar at The Delfina Foundation and HOME

Embassy of non Participation


The Embassy of non Participation at the Sydney Biennale

Hold Your Ground


Hold Your Ground & Everything for Everyone and Nothing for Us at the Hayward Gallery

The New Deal


The New Deal at the Walker Arts Centre

The Daily Battle


The Daily Battle at Vivid

Museum of non Participation


The Museum of non Participation launch with Artangel


The Scar

HOME and The Delfina Foundation 2018

The Scar is a film in three chapters (The State of the State, The Mouth of the Shark and The Gossip),  inspired by a true event with names, scenes and locations having been  fictionalised through the use of Magical Realism. In chapter one, we see  four passengers on a journey in a black Mercedes, unaware of their  significance as state archetypes: the Chief of Police, a politician and a  right-wing assassin. The fourth passenger is Yenge, the only female  traveller, silenced by the genre conventions of her role in the film. In  chapter two, Yenge’s noir voiceover begins to interrupt the male  characters’ forced bravado as they are haunted by the Resistant Dead –  the residual movements created from stories of people refusing to be  forgotten. The film’s final part, The Gossip, addresses tales  of female emancipation and empowerment, where a group of female  activists transcend time, geographical borders and linguistic barriers  to gather in a neutral nether-realm of conversation and mutual support.

Scar Press

"Brad Butler's and Noro Afshan Mirza's five-screen narrative installation, The Scar, 2018, unfolds in  three filmic chapters: “The State of the State,” “The Mouth of the  Shark,” and “The Gossip”—the latter being a three-channel presentation.  The artists began an early iteration of the project in 2015 during their  residency here as part of a program titled “The Public Domain.” After the initial premiere of The Scar at HOME in Manchester earlier this year, the artists have brought the  work back to where it first began, a homecoming of sorts which will  involve an extended schedule of talks, performances, and workshops.

In  the gallery, the lights are low, the room made darker by the burgundy  wallpaper. An interruptive, sometimes violent white-noise soundscape  hangs heavily. In lieu of gallery notes, the viewer is provided with  four noirish archetypes: Kaptan, the chief of police; Ağa, the  politician; Reis, a right-wing state assassin; and Yenge, the taken  woman. The film, loosely premised around a car crash in Turkey in 1996,  smudges true events with altered narratives and dreamlike sequences  (hallucinatory visions often haunt our protagonists). In the first two  chapters, our characters swerve through the night in a black Mercedes,  the men partaking in misogynistic banter. After her silence in the first  film, Yenge begins to interrupt the male dialogue in an internal  voice-over in the second. Her soliloquy about the “Resistant Dead,”  murdered by the state, and the violence enacted by her fellow  passengers, feels like evidence or oral testimony. There’s a sense of  history being authored, as well as its dissent. This chapter culminates  with the introduction of the “The Gossip,” named for a chorus of female  activists who, pursuing justice, devise a supernatural utopia where the  constraints of language and time do not apply. For Mirza and Butler’s  characters, the possibility of resistance is commensurate with the  imagination. Despite its framing of emancipation and transcendence  within a magical realist lens, the chapter suggests the potential for  our own world’s revitalization—for wounds to close, and become scars". - ArtForum Critic's Pick - Philomea Epps


The Embassy of non Participation

Sydney Biennale 2016

This multifaceted exhibition at Artspace is conceptualised as an infinity  loop, which branches out in two directions linked through a central  space near the entrance to the gallery. Here visitors are presented with  two adjacent doors that offer different access points to the  exhibition, and through which one must return to complete the picture.  Mirza and Butler riff off Duchamps bespoke door in his tiny Paris  apartment which was famously hinged on a jamb shared by two openings,  thus serving two thresholds and three rooms simultaneously. A door that  closes in one direction opens in another.

Embassy of non Participation Press

"The Embassy of Non-Participation at  Artspace is by turns fascinating and disturbing. The artists  present a gallery-wide installation of works that  examine resistance to neoliberalism, from the provocative You Are the  Prime Minister in which you, as British PM, are asked to draft a speech  justifying police firing on protesters in a future London wracked by  civil unrest to a video of actual footage of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist  attacks, to more videos and pamphlets and wall works. The sense of the  here and now in the Artspace show is strong and without any of the  escape provided by utopian sci-fi." - The Guardian

"Its equally appropriate  that Artspace, an artists squat in the 1970s, with form since then in  radical artistic experimentation, should become the Embassy of  Non-Participation, showcasing a multi-faceted look at protest by Karen  Mirza and Brad Butler. The standout piece here is a remarkable video,  The Unreliable Narrator (2014-15), which intercuts CCTV footage of the  2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai with Bollywood  versions of the event, and includes phone conversations between the  attackers and their controllers". - Financial Times

"That passive or non-participation as  a form of resistance or comment is a theme played out more pointedly at  Artspace as the Embassy of Non-Participation, another highlight of this  Biennale. Its renaming takes its cue from the artist collaborative of  Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, whose ongoing body of work confronts the  social-political in artworks by using the idea of non-participation as a  threshold for change that is both unstable and malleable. Rosenthal  continued of their work: For me their work was so important because they  cover two aspects of what I think is important in non-participation and  how art can reflect that: the way they engage with material on YouTube  like the Mumbai attacks and how they use existing material, and on the  other side, how you can resist with the body and how resistance is  inscribed in the body and how the body memorises traumatic experience.  The space materialises out that dichotomy by offering two routes of  entry into the exhibition, playing out the metaphor: a door that closes  in one direction opens in another. To the right is a work that moves  between alternating position of terrorist and spectator of the 2008  Mumbai attacks, while to the left is the work Hold Your Ground (2012)  inspired by the event of the Arab Spring and the artists discovery of  the pamphlet How to protest intelligently. Rosenthal added: In a way  this Embassy of Non- Participation, which feels small, is somehow woven  into all the other embassies. It is perhaps the most politically overt  work across the Biennale, an exhibition that is alleviated from the  usual pummel-mentality and allows breathing space for the viewers own  considerations to surface". - Atrshub


hold your ground & everything for everyone & nothing for us

Hayward Gallery MIRRORCITY 2015 and Canary Wharf Tube station 2013

Everyhting for Everyone and Nothing for US as part of the exhibition MIRRORCITY 2014

This prequel to Hold Your Ground has its main character using a TV studio as a site for training the body. She starts with audio extracts that take the frequency of a political speech by Margaret Thatcher. Our heroine listens and then uses movement to exorcise this voice whilst employing the camera to analyse her body for areas of self disciplining and censorship.

Hold Your Ground premiered and was conceived  for a  site at Canary Wharf in 2013, this work calls forth the struggle to turn ‘fugitive sounds’ into speech, addressing an audience predominantly in transit.

"Our Canary Wharf film has no interviews. It has some archive footage  from Northern Ireland, from UK demonstrations, from Egypt and a few  other places. But mostly what it has is a character who is both  attempting to teach and attempting to speak a protest language. In fact,  she only says four actual words, so a lot of her actions are about  attempting to construct language. The reason this is relevant to Canary  Wharf is because in particular we were alarmed by the indefinite  political injunction taken out by the Canary Wharf Group during the  occupation of St Pauls, stopping any gathering or form of protest in  Canary Wharf. So our protagonist is calling to the workers in transit to think about  their relationship to speaking out, to think about where they place  their body, to find new gestures of protest, to address their  frustrations in finding the freedom to speak out about issues, to find  connections". 


the new deal

The Walker Arts Centre 2014

How does one participate in or withdraw from political  realities, individually and collectively? What social spaces support or  deter such actions? And how can art represent, facilitate, or intervene  in this process? Made up of film, sound, text, and performed actions,

For the US debut of the Museum of non Participation, Mirza and Butler transform the Walkers Medtronic  Gallery into a multilayered installation and evolving social space that  interrogates the shifting allegiances, contracts, and new deals between  nation states and their citizens. A selection of video works highlights  the precarious nature of this relationship as witnessed through  significant geopolitical events, from the Lawyers Movement protests in  Pakistan to the Arab Spring and widespread austerity rallies in Europe.

Incorporated  as a central feature of the exhibition, a live production set serves as  the backdrop for the artists and members of the Twin Cites community to  workshop, rehearse, and stage one of Bertolt Brechts short learning  playsThe Exception and the Rule, a tale of corruption, exploitation, and  injustice.

A program of informal public conversations and commissioned texts for the Walkers website further animate the exhibition.

Curators: Yesomi Umolu, with Susy Bielak

The New Deal Press

(Extract) On Aesthetics and Activism (interview by Julie Caniglia

At the Walker  youve added a subtitle: The New Deal. Whats behind that amendment?

Firstly,  it refers to the Walkers 1939 transformation from a privately funded  museum founded by T.B Walker into a public art center, via the Works  Projects Administration, which was part of President Roosevelts New Deal  focusing on relief, recovery, and reform that is, relief for the  unemployed and poor; recovery of the economy to normal levels; and  reform of the financial system.

The New Deal also refers to a work we are making for the exhibition using four United Nations Reolsutions on Iraq:  two dated 1990, and the others from 2002 and 2003. These Resolutions  are significant not just in their claims and content, but also in their  voice, grammar, sense of authority, and rule under law each is a single  legal sentence of escalating length.

Our aim is not to attempt to  represent Iraqi sociocide as an image it is, after all, impossible to  depict the scale of the violence of what has happened to Iraqs people as  well as its entire societal structure and culture. Ultimately, this  work goes beyond the facts as to how Iraq is erased, implicating these  UN resolutions as a script authored by the Deep State. That term is  widely used in Turkey to address the largely covert state within the  state that utilises violence and other means of pressure to manipulate  political and economic elites, and to ensure specific interests are  satisfied within a seemingly democratic


the daily battle

VIVID 2010

For The Daily Battle Karen Mirza and  Brad Butler are occupying a column space in the UK/Urdu newspaper The  Daily Jang (translated back into English as: The Daily Battle) as a  temporary site of creative contemporary discourse about the role of art  in society. Each day of the exhibition a different cultural thinker will  publish an uncensored text that is their own interpretation of this  context. 100 copies of 10,000 Daily Jang print run will be delivered to  Vivid each morning as the focus of an installation within the  exhibition.

Column contributors include Nada Raza, Sara Wajid,  Gemma Sharpe, Rahila Gupta, Auj Khan, Shanay Jhaveri, Karen Mirza &  Brad Butler.

Within the exhibition Mirza and Butler will also  present their award winning film The Exception and The Rule. Shot in  Pakistan in 2009, the film avoids traditional documentary modes and  within the context of civil unrest, incorporates performances to camera,  classic observation and public interventions. The Museum of non  Participation is an ongoing interest in seeking out thresholds in  language and intervening in new possible sites of exhibition and (non)  participation. Mirza and Butler phrase this within their practice as an  exploration of the politics of translation, translation within language  and a performance of the condition of the 'untranslatable'.

The  Daily Battle is presented as part of VIVID's LANGUAGE season, a series  of exhibitions, talks, and films exploring the constructs of language  and meaning from far reaching cultural perspectives.


The Museum of non participation Launch 2007-2009

Artist statement

Launched with Artangel Interaction, The Museum of non Participation  situated itself as a museum without walls, inspired by its founders  experiences moving between their home in Bethnal Green and the city of  Karachi in Pakistan from 2007-2009. The resulting ‘socially engaged  practice’ from 2007-2016 included interventions, newspapers, wall  chalking, reading groups, language exchange, performance lectures,  audioworks, walks, political theatre, and Speech Acts. The Museum  launched in London in a space behind a barbers shop on Bethnal Green  Road where Butler and Mirza hosted a space for language exchange between  Urdu and English Speakers. A newspaper collecting a multitude voices on  this project was published as a supplement in collaboration with one of  Pakistan's largest media grouos: the Daily Jang. The Museum culminated  in 2016 in a solo exhibition at the Sydney Biennale.: ‘The Embassy of  non Participation

The exception and the rule

The film, shot in Pakistan, India and the UK employs a variety of strategies in negotiating frameworks of partition and colonialistion through a cumulative assembly of voice, image, citation, actor, participant and situation

Premiered at The Museum of non Participation launch and London Film Festival, 

Winner of Chicago Experimenal Film Award. 39 mins 2008

THE MUSEum of non participation launch PRESS

Commissioned by Artangel Interaction projects which places emphasis on process rather than product the Museum of non Participation is supported by the UK institutional structure while carving out of space in the larger social sphere both physically, outside the gallery context (a room behind the barbershop), and conceptually, through its paradoxical open condition. This in-between state was deeply inspired by political event that occurred during Mirza and Butler's artist residency in Islamabad in 2007. While visiting a nude exhibition in the National Gallery of Islamabad, the artists witnessed first-hand the lawyers movement riots which arose as a result of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhy's refusal to obey military ruler General Pervez Musharraf's order to resign his position as the chief justice of Pakistan. This refusal sparked a chain of events, including massive rallies and so called 'Long Marches' then, in November 2007, General Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, an act reserved only for the country's president.

Watching the violence unfold from the window of one of the most disputed art exhibitions In the National Art Gallery, the city outside and the gallery inside were transformed into sites of confrontation. Sandwiched between these two manifestations of protest the artists found themselves in a liminal, paradoxical space, which became the inspiration for the Museum of non Participation. The museum visitor experiences this paradoxical experience at face value: upon entering the room behind the barbershop, the visitor was confronted with the question: How can I not participate in this museum now that I've entered it? Following the artist Andrea Fraser's claim that 'we are the institution', the intelligence of the Museum of non Participation lies in the impossibility of its being captured because it is everywhere where we are not. This paradoxical experience leaves the audience in a moment of uncertainty, or non-closure, and arguably of self agency, which differentiates the museum of non-participation from the first 'social turn' of 1990s relational art.- Maxa Zoller Art Monthly 2009

Much discussion of The Museum of Non Participation has focused on its  identity. What is it? How does it function? Where is it? These queries  are best answered through its enterprises. Unique to individual  relationships with the initiative and paradoxically dependent on  participation, The Museum of Non Participation is a cumulative and  experiential project. Standing against the formal traditions of art, The  Museum is a state of encounter. It is a presence developed and  challenged through contributions to its voice. – Josephine Breese, This is Tomorrow, 12 October 2009

Using film, video, found footage and photography, The Exception and  the Rule throws its own site, narrative and production into question,  particularly through use of direct (though unacknowledged) citations,  its ambiguous application of fictional elements, and through a use of  text and spoken English or Urdu.  – Gemma Sharpe, Afterall, 6 July 2010 

If the Museum of Non Participation is a non-museum, The Exception and  the Rule is a non-documentary film. One learns as little about a  foreign culture via the media as one learns about the vital artistic  moment (symbolized in myth by the muses) via a museum. The film entwines  images of the Other in a complex interweave of medial references and  formal refractions; it insists on the moment of non-communicable  experience – and thus exacts from the viewer the direct, ‘uncomfortable’  encounter with the real Other. – Marcel Schwierin, EMAN, 2009