Between River and Reeds (2022) was a year-long project hosted by the Broads National Park authorities and funded by the Heritage Fund.
The project supported six selected artists to explore, research and produce creative impressions of rural communities of the Broads, a 303 square kilometers of low lying marshland in East England.
As the final showcase of a year-long research and practice period, an exhibition was held at Skippings Gallery in Great Yarmouth from 9th – 25th June 2022. A follow up touring exhibition is held at the Assembly House in August 2022.
illustration as an ethnographic visual research practice
Drawing has been an important communication tool for me from a young age. As a new arrival to the U.S. at the age of seven, I spoke no English and therefore struggled to communicate with teachers and other children. I drew to express myself to others.
Since then, drawing has had a special place in my creative practice.
For the project, I leaned heavily on drawing as a visual research method. And in my drawings, I wanted to avoid romanticizing the rural landscape. Instead, I wanted to emphasize the contemporary relevance of the land to its people. I did so by jumping on my kayak and SUP board to explore the Broads. This gave me a vantage point and opportunities to meet and talk to people. Through their interpretation, I redrew the map to signpost how people live, work and make communities in the land they occupy.
Redrawing the Map
Contemporary significance of landscapes
For those who are still trying to find out more on what makes the Broads a special place, here are some interesting facts:
The female botanist and ecologist, Joyce Lambert, proved that the Broads is a man-made landscape rather than a natural phenomenon back in 1952. Her claim was sensational and was met with much skepticism. But her extensive fieldwork of collecting soil samples, showed that between 12th and 14th centuries, each parish exercised their right to harvest peat for fuel, which eventually came to form the rivers of the Broads.
If mills are your fancy, there are aplenty here. 63 still stand in various forms of preservation. Part of the @water_mills_marshes project was to restore some of these important cultural assets.
Significant also is the number of pubs in Norfolk. There are over 1000. And there are over 650 churches to atone the guilt of inebriated evenings.
The Broads may be 100 miles from London and the region often serves up many bad jokes (like webbed feet locals), it is often featured as one of the best places to live in the U.K.
great yarmouth and lowestoft
Yarmouth is a hidden gem of East Anglia full of amazing architecture and quirky flare. Over the decades tho, GY has gone down a slippery road and got a bit funky and nutty. But with a lot of positive thinking, collaboration and heaps of investment, it’s becoming an increasingly important cultural and industrial center, particularly around energy. In fact, the Norfolk and Suffolk coast is home to 47% of UK wind turbines and produces 44% of wind produced energy. Swoosh! Building a cleaner, safer, Russian blood-energy free future.
GY also has lots of swanky entertainment offerings, including one of my favs, @stgeorgestheatre_official, where you can catch a performance and a cuppa year round. Venetian Water (@waterwaysproject) is now all restored and beaming gorgeous, which will be joined in a few years (in theory) by the restored Winter Garden that has stood sad and crying for decades oozing with character and potential.
If you’re into a more street art experience, @banksy has hit up Yarmouth and Lowestoft recently during his memorable great spraycation outing.
Whatever you do, just be warned that if your plan includes a paddle and waddle on Breydon water, watch the tide as you can seriously get marooned on the mud flaps. Once an estuary, Breydon water is UK’s largest wetland for those twitchers out there.
If you’re looking for diversity (socio-economic diversity, not race, which is 98% white), I found it most eclectic up around Wroxham. With many fiberglass caravan-on-water boats on hire, you get to see heaps of holidaymakers celebrating a variety of occasions on the river.
In fact, some 7 million visitors come to enjoy the Broads every year (pre-covid figs.). Common river visitors are the stag-do boys who live out their inner-pirate fantasy with booze, rockstar attitude and a customary pirate flag flapping proudly in the rear.
Trying to outdo the stag boys are the hen party girls. Interestingly, many of the hens I came across are less spring chicken and more second (or third) time hopefuls to the altar. With Barbie pink pom-poms dancing above their heads and clad in bikinis struggling to keep what’s spreading out in are an endearing sight of the Norfolk Broads.
If you venture out further along, say River Ant, you can find the semi-locals who know how to find the good secluded spots. There, they indulge in complete silence to read their weekend Guardian supplements, drink chilled wine (they have their own boats with own cooler with own wine, no less of course, from M&S) and admire their placid dog (ideally a rescue, preferably from Romania or similar dog negligent countries for double karma points).
I also often found solo-anglers. They seem to have this zen aura of ‘leave me alone’ energy. What they think about as they sit patiently for a gullible fish, I’ll never know. But I do know that they crave space, both physically and mentally. So I never stopped to chat to them.