Mapping Norfolk exhibition inspired by big skies

Peter Sargent Norfolk’s distinctive, wide open landscape will be the star of the show at a Sainsbury Centre exhibition. PETER SARGENT discovers it is the result of a journey by land, sea and air by a much-travelled artist.

Peter Sargent

“The Norfolk landscape expresses its energy in an embracing way, an impression reinforced by Norfolk's big sky. It has a subtle and confident character,” says Kabir Hussain.

Mapping Norfolk, a new exhibition of work by this master bronze founder, with more than 17 years of experience, opens in the Link at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich today, July 1, and runs until August 31.

The exhibition has been inspired by the Norfolk landscape, from the salt marshes of north Norfolk to the Broads and the flatlands of the Fens. At the centre of the show are large works in bronze that form a 'sculptural map of Norfolk'.

Photography, sculpture and drawing by the artist will also be on display. The exhibition is curated by Atsuko Kikuchi, curatorial fellow in cultural diversity at the Sainsbury Centre.

Members of the public can also get involved by helping to create an online map of the county.

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Kabir Hussain was born in Punjab, Pakistan, in 1960. At the age of seven he emigrated to England with his family and grew up in Yorkshire. His fascination with the landscape stems from his memories of the terrain he saw from the aeroplane on this journey.

Since then he has witnessed a variety of extreme landscapes, from the altiplano of Peru - the wild high plain of the Andes - to the craggy terrain of Eritrea in north-east Africa through to the desolate Thar Desert of India, which have influenced his sculptures.

Having lived in King's Lynn since 2001, he feels now is the time to explore the countryside he calls home. Norfolk's rather more homely charms have clearly grown on him.

“Wanderlust takes you to faraway places,” he says. “The buzz of a new and alien environment can be enthralling. Over time you become more appreciative of your immediate surroundings, as I have of Norfolk after living here for seven years.

“I feel a familiarity with it and have an attachment to it that I wish to build upon. When I first visited the county in 1995, I was struck by its expansive nature. Now I feel is the time to adopt it for formal study.”

In preparation for the exhibition, Mr Hussain took journeys on land, by sea and air.

He began in King's Lynn where he took a fresh look at some of the routes that have become familiar to him.

From there he moved down the coast to explore the mud flats of Snettisham, the village of Ten Mile Bank, near Downham Market in the Norfolk fens, and the expansive views seen from locations such as Salthouse Church and Sheringham.

Mr Hussain then went inland, visiting Thetford Forest and the Norfolk Broads.

Research to expand on the exhibition has been carried out on a wide range of topics by Mr Hussain and the curator, Atsuko Kikuchi.

They have studied Norfolk literature and archive materials, and spoken to local residents and experts on topics from history and archaeology to wildlife.

Norfolk organisations that have contributed to their research include Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the Norfolk Coast Partnership, Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, Norfolk Heritage Centre and the School of Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia.

Kabir Hussain's new works that form a 'sculptural map of Norfolk' have been cast at the AB Fine Art Foundry, in London, which has supported the artist and his exhibition.

Mr Hussain uses a combination of bronze, wax and paper to form delicate textures and shapes, giving them the immediacy and intimacy of a watercolour.

Displayed with the bronzes will be sculptures, drawings and photographs by the artist.

“We hope the exhibition will inspire people with a sense of community, encourage lively debate about our local environment and give people a fresh perspective on the Norfolk landscape,” said Atsuko Kikuchi.

t Accompanying the exhibition will be a new website - www.mappingnorfolk.com - which will feature work by the artist and interviews with local people and experts. People will also have chance to take part in an online mapping project to create a map of Norfolk with their own videos and photographs. The website invites people to tell their stories and opinions of places in the county. This could involve a walk in the countryside, and you can contribute by drawing the route and contributing the photos that you took during your walk, or how a place looked in the past with old photographs. Email comments@mappingnorfolk.com to get invited to participate in the project.

t For information about events accompanying Mapping Norfolk visit www.scva.ac.uk or telephone 01603 593199.

t Mapping Norfolk runs from today, Tuesday July 1, until Sunday August 31. The exhibition is open Tuesday to Sunday (closed Monday), 10am to 5pm and is also open until 8pm on Wednesdays. Telephone 01603 593199 or visit www.scva.ac.uk for further information. Admission to Mapping Norfolk and to the permanent collections is free.

t Mapping Norfolk has been funded by the Arts Council England.