Ask an artist: Madi Acharya-Baskerville
We spoke to Oxford-based artist Madi Acharya-Baskerville ahead of Cabinet of Curiosities, her Kiki Smith-inspired sculpture workshop on 18 January 2020. In this resulting Q&A, she covers thoughts on Oxford life, environmental activism, musical inspirations and memories from an early childhood in India.
You live in Oxford currently. Has the city influenced your work as an artist in any way?
Oxford is a culturally diverse city so this provides a fitting environment for my work. I am particularly inspired by the collections at the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean Museums as my practice draws on non-European cultures. The Indian Miniature paintings at the Ashmolean are a great inspiration for my own paintings. The vast collections of cultural artefacts at the Pitt Rivers Museum are an important source of inspiration for my sculptural work. Also as Oxford is near many waterways and the river Thames, it is easy to go for walks and connect with nature, which is a key feature of my work. I recently sourced a piece of charred wood when I was walking along the river bank which became the main part of one of my sculptures ‘Fake it till you make it’.
Your art practice has a strong connection to the environment. Do you consider your artwork to be a form of environmental activism?
Yes definitely, I see the studio as a space to develop specific themes, and highlight current concerns regarding our environment, especially the non-biodegradability of ‘stuff‘ around us. My work begins with going for walks in forests and coastal areas, collecting fallen branches from trees and debris washed up on beaches after storms. This act of taking discarded, often overlooked materials from the environment is a starting point. I like to nurture them, highlight their importance and attend to their seemingly fragile state. At the same time I am mindful of the fact that some of these materials such as plastic are actually unlikely to decay for centuries. I have also been collecting a variety of textiles and incorporating them into my sculptural work. Sometimes the use of textiles can be a way of emphasizing cultural difference. I am also concerned about how fast fashion is exploiting cheap labour and adding to our landfill waste. I like to use exquisite textiles, often moth eaten, sometimes handed down to me from family along side fabrics which have little value assigned to them and have been discarded by throwaway fashion.
You often use found materials in your work, both natural and manmade. Can you tell us about a time you found a particularly interesting object?
While walking in Church Ope Cove, in Portland on the Dorset coast after a storm one time, I saw a huge black mass in the distance near the sea. It looked like a gigantic reclining figure looking out to sea. On walking closer it became apparent that this was a massive fishing net, with black sections of it unraveled on the beach, and green sections intact hence more recognizably like a fishing net. This resonated with me as it reminded me of long back hair. As it was too big for me to lift I had to leave it there. It was so compelling I kept returning to it and then decided to cut off sections of it, rather like it was actual hair. Back in the studio this association with hair continued and so I developed this idea and created the installation ‘ I wish my hair was as long as yours’.
You say that you incorporate song into your practice. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Music is an essential part of my life. I like to listen to a variety of music whilst making work in my studio, everything from Krautrock, Electronica, and Folk through to Indian Classical Music. Particular songs have become more like lived experiences. For example I made the painting ‘ A Sailor’s Life’, which takes its title from a song originally by the legendary British folk band Fairport Convention. I heard a version of this song performed on an evening boat journey. As this magical song came alive, we drifted down The Thames and it became darker and darker as reflected in the darkness of the charred wood on the edge of this painting.
You were born in India before moving to the UK. Has this cultural background informed your art?
The experience of being born in India and spending my early life there continues to inform my art practice. I am influenced by images from childhood, of Indian rural life, tribal masks and ancient customs. The adornment of found objects through the use of intricate beadwork, embroidered textiles and patterns from Indian miniature painting is a way of deliberately slowing down the process of making work and giving attention to detail. For inspiration, I also like to return to particular places in India, such as the village ‘Bero’ in Bihar, my father’s ancestral home and also, in stark contrast to this, the lively, chaotic street markets in Kolkata, West Bengal. I like to celebrate the idiosyncrasies in both cultures but also highlight the themes that transcend cultures and reflect the wider human condition.
More about Madi Acharya-Baskerville
Madi Acharya-Baskerville graduated with an MA in Fine Art at University of Wales Institute, Cardiff. Since then she has participated in group and solo exhibitions in the UK, France and Germany including Ovada Gallery in Oxford and Frauenmuseum in Germany. Her project ‘Sanctuary’ was shown at National Museum of Kenya, Nairobi in 2011 followed by Brunei Gallery, London in 2013. Her sculpture, ‘The Bride’ was selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2016. In 2017 she had a solo exhibition ‘Absent Beach’ at Vinyl Gallery, Deptford. In 2018 her work featured in ‘Fe/Male’ at Air Gallery, Manchester, she co-curated ‘Objection’ a group exhibition at Angus-Hughes Gallery, London and her work was also selected for ‘and the value of nothing’ at Studio 1:1 Gallery, London. Most recent exhibitions include ‘Dancing with the corporeal’ at No Format Gallery, ‘by the way’ at Lewisham Art House, London and ‘Parallel Line: Drawing and Sculpture’ at The Lightbox, Woking, she had a solo exhibition at Magdalen Art Space, Magdalen Road Studios in Oxford (10-13thOctober 2019). Discover more about Madi Acharya-Baskerville on her website.
Read more about Kiki Smith: I am a Wanderer here.