Stories from the Sainsbury Centre with Josie Long | Art Pass Recommends

Uncovering the Stories: Exploring the Sainsbury Centre’s Rich Tapestry of Art and History


Nestled in the heart of Norwich, the Sainsbury Centre stands as a remarkable testament to the power of art and culture to inspire and captivate. With its vast and diverse collection, the centre represents a rich tapestry of history, offering a glimpse into the wonders of human creativity across continents and centuries. In this article, we embark on a journey through time and explore the fascinating stories that the Sainsbury Centre holds. We hear from staff and volunteers who share their favorite objects, personal picks, and hidden gems, all while uncovering the intriguing history that the library represents.

A Legacy of Vision and Generosity

The Sainsbury Centre owes its existence to the vision and generosity of Sir Robert and Lady Lisa Sainsbury, who bequeathed their exceptional collection of art and artifacts to the University of East Anglia. Their passion for art, combined with a desire to share it with the public, led to the creation of the Sainsbury Centre, which opened its doors in 1978. Since then, it has grown in both size and reputation, becoming a cultural beacon in the region and beyond.

Step inside the Sainsbury Centre, and you will be greeted by a treasure trove of art and artifacts from around the world. From ancient civilizations to contemporary masterpieces, the collection spans a vast array of cultures and artistic styles. Among the highlights are the magnificent African, Oceanic, and Native American art, which offer glimpses into rich and diverse traditions.

Exploring the Collection

One particularly captivating object is the Sainsbury African Galleries’ star attraction—a colossal Ndop statue from the Kingdom of Kuba in present-day Democratic Republic of Congo. Carved with intricate details, this statue represents a revered royal figure, embodying the Kuba people’s history and beliefs. The Ndop serves as a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of African artisans and provides a window into the complex social and political structures of the Kuba Kingdom.

The staff and volunteers at the Sainsbury Centre each have their own personal favorites among the collection. Helen, a dedicated volunteer, is particularly drawn to the striking sculptures from the Pacific Islands. She explains that these works hold deep spiritual significance for the communities that created them, and their expressive forms never fail to leave a lasting impression.

Horror Stories and Dark Legends

While the Sainsbury Centre is a place of beauty and inspiration, it is not without its share of dark tales and mysterious legends. Behind the scenes, staff members whisper of strange occurrences and unexplained phenomena. Some claim to have heard whispers echoing through the halls after closing time, while others speak of objects moving mysteriously overnight. These eerie tales add an air of intrigue and mystique to the already enchanting atmosphere of the centre.

One chilling story revolves around an ancient Egyptian artifact—a funerary mask believed to be imbued with a malevolent spirit. According to local legend, anyone who looks into the eyes of the mask will be cursed with misfortune. While the mask is undoubtedly a captivating piece of history, it also carries a haunting aura that has intrigued and frightened visitors for generations.

Celebrating Diversity and Dialogue

Beyond its remarkable collection, the Sainsbury Centre serves as a hub for cultural exchange and dialogue. It hosts exhibitions, lectures, and events that celebrate diversity and encourage conversations about art, history, and society. The centre’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility ensures that everyone can engage with the enriching experiences it offers.

In one such initiative, the Sainsbury Centre partnered with a local community group to curate an exhibition exploring themes of identity and belonging. Through a series of workshops and collaborative projects, individuals from different backgrounds shared their personal stories and artistic expressions, fostering a sense of connection and understanding.

A Living Museum of Stories

The Sainsbury Centre is not merely a static repository of art and artifacts but a living museum that continues to evolve and tell new stories. Its dedicated staff and volunteers work tirelessly to engage visitors and ensure that the center remains a vibrant and welcoming space for all.

One staff member, Sarah, shares her passion for contemporary art and how the center’s commitment to showcasing innovative and thought-provoking works has deeply impacted her. She recounts a recent exhibition that challenged traditional notions of art and pushed boundaries, sparking conversations and inspiring visitors to question their preconceptions.

The Sainsbury Centre also values the power of education and learning. Its education programs cater to diverse audiences, from school children to lifelong learners. Through workshops, guided tours, and interactive activities, visitors of all ages can deepen their understanding of art and history while nurturing their own creativity.

Beyond the Walls

While the Sainsbury Centre itself is an architectural marvel, it extends its reach beyond its physical boundaries. Through collaborations with other museums, institutions, and communities, it fosters a network of cultural exchange and cooperation. This enables the center to bring exhibitions and experiences to new audiences, amplifying its impact and promoting cross-cultural understanding.

One example is the recent partnership with a museum in Greece, which resulted in an exhibition exploring the connections between ancient Greek and African art. By juxtaposing these seemingly disparate cultures, the exhibition challenged prevailing narratives and highlighted the universal themes that bind humanity together.

Preserving the Past, Inspiring the Future

As a custodian of art and history, the Sainsbury Centre recognizes the importance of preservation and conservation. Behind the scenes, a dedicated team works tirelessly to safeguard the objects in the collection, ensuring their longevity and continued accessibility for future generations.

The center’s commitment to sustainability also extends to its operations. Efforts are made to minimize environmental impact, from energy-efficient practices to promoting recycling and reducing waste. By embodying these values, the Sainsbury Centre aims to inspire visitors to consider their own roles in protecting the planet and preserving our cultural heritage.

The Sainsbury Centre is a testament to the enduring power of art and culture to transcend time and space. Through its collection, exhibitions, and outreach efforts, it connects people from all walks of life, inviting them to explore and appreciate the diverse stories that shape our world.


As you visit the Sainsbury Centre and immerse yourself in its captivating displays, take a moment to reflect on the stories that unfold before your eyes. From ancient civilizations to contemporary creations, each object holds within it a tale of human creativity, resilience, and the shared experiences that bind us together. In the end, the Sainsbury Centre stands not only as a museum but as a vibrant hub of discovery and inspiration—a place where stories intertwine, knowledge is shared, and the beauty of our collective heritage is celebrated. So, venture forth, explore the hidden gems, listen to the whispers of history, and allow yourself to be captivated by the stories that the Sainsbury Centre has to offer.

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