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Neeta Madahar at Combe Grove

We are fortunate to currently have the work of internationally renowned artist Neeta Madahar on display here at Combe Grove. Neeta has a strong connection with Combe Grove due to her long term friendship with our director Helen Aylward-Smith and was kind of enough to answer a few questions for us.

What is your background?

I did a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at City of Bath College in 1995 and then got a place at Winchester School of Art to do a BA in Fine Art. The painting department, where I was based, was very supportive of ‘using the medium that best serves the concept’, which was very much and still is the way that I work.

I found that after a year of painting the ideas that  interested me didn’t suit painting, so I then explored installation and subsequently made video work in my final year. After that, I decided to do a Masters degree with an interdisciplinary focus. I applied to 4 schools in the US and got scholarship offers at them all. I chose to undertake a 3-year MFA in Studio Art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, linked with Tufts University, from 2000-2003 and ironically, I ended up spending my time focused on Photography. My final year thesis body of work ‘Sustenance’, part of which is on show at Combe Grove, got a huge amount of attention and quickly got me representation with galleries and was acquired by several museum collections. Within a few months of graduating one print went into the V&A Museum collection, and another went into Harvard University’s art collection and I got gallery representation, so things moved very quickly. Looking back over my work, I’m still very much an interdisciplinary artist, working with the idea to use the medium that best serves the concept and I remain interested in the contrast between what’s real and artificial.

Is there anyone who inspires you?

There’s a number of different artists. I love the work of Peter Doig. I can spend an inordinate amount of time looking at his paintings. I’ve also been very heavily affected by my 3 years in Boston looking at the work of landscape photographers who use large format cameras. There’s an American photographer called Barbara Bosworth whose work inspires me, it’s very quiet and poetic. I’m very drawn to American photography.

Was any of your work at Combe Grove inspired by different artists?

The Flora series was inspired by the work of late British photographer named Madame Yevonde. I fell in love with her portrait series The Goddesses in a photography portrait exhibition at the Guugenheim in New York in 1997. I couldn’t believe that she had made the work in 1935. The images looked so fresh and contemporary and that stayed with me. When I came to making Flora, I was influenced by how creative and experimental Madame Yevonde was, especially in the darkroom. What might be considered mistakes in photography were things that she deliberately tried to make happen or were happy accidents, and this didn’t detract from the beauty of her images.

What inspired you to get into Art?

I’ve always been interested in it. Within the context of my Indian cultural heritage, my parents were very keen that I follow the route of the sciences, but that didn’t make me happy. Eventually, I left a full-time job to go to art school, studying at City of Bath College. I loved my foundation year! As an artist one can research so many different disciplines. You can investigate history, philosophy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, astronomy, anthropology, many different fields. I am increasingly interested in neuroscience and that’s influencing two bodies of work I’m currently making about mindfulness because of my fascination with the relationship between the mind and brain.

For the last 7 years, I have been a Buddhist meditation practitioner and that influences how I look back on previous bodies of work, and also the new work that I want to make. I’ve always been passionate about art but there has been room for other things to come into my life that contribute to my art-making. Nowadays I don’t say that I am solely an interdisciplinary artist, I also say I am a yoga teacher, and that I teach meditation as my voluntary work. I’ve also recently trained as a Soul Midwife (a holistic companion that helps support the dying and their bereaved families)and again, this is something I do on a voluntary basis.

Is yoga and voluntary work something that also inspires your art?

Certainly, going forward it is. In yoga it is said that life and death are just the flipside of a coin and if you know how to die, you know how to live. The Buddha said ‘don’t waste time, every moment is precious’. It’s not to be morbid, it’s just to understand that every moment requires mindful attention. This very much influences my work.

I now look at my previous work, and I still feel that my ideas are about nature, what’s real versus what’s artificial, and about perception. I also feel that I can re-articulate my art with another language that’s based on my deep commitment as a meditator. My artmaking, yoga teaching, my practice as a meditator and interest in being of service to those that are dying all come from the same source, Dharma.

Dharma is the science of how things work in the universe. It’s understanding the reality, the truth of how things are, and how interconnected everything is and that there is nothing that we do that doesn’t have an impact on everything else around us. There’s no notion of moral judgement, of good or bad, there’s just a thought, words or action along the spectrum of unskilful to skilful, and to take responsibility for one’s actions, to uphold ethical standards because there are consequences if one doesn’t.

What are your passions in life?

I am very fortunate that I am living my passions. I make art, I love teaching yoga because that’s purposeful within my local community in Newbury. I love being a meditator and teaching meditation and it has been a calling for several years to work more with the dying, and in that context, I have been offering Death Cafés. I actually co-hosted one at Combe Grove in May.

What is your connection to Combe Grove?

I’m old friends with Helen, the Director of Combe Grove. We’ve been friends since 1990. She is very interested in art and conversations about nature, for example, looking at the macro vs. the micro world. If you look at the images in the Cosmoses series, there is the sense of looking at something in a petri dish in contrast to gazing out into the universe. It is a beautiful fit to have work that ties in with the ethos of what Helen desires to offer at Combe Grove.

Do you hang your work anywhere else?

My Flora portraits are currently on show at the Yale Center for British Art which is part of Yale University. The centre holds the biggest collection of British Art outside of Tate Britain. I also have work in various museum collections, as mentioned already, the V&A Museum and Harvard University’s Art Collection, My print Sustenance 104, which you have here at Combe Grove is in the Government Art Collection and was hung in 10 Downing Street. I also have work in various corporate collections, for example, Twitter and Fidelity Investments. The UK organisation Paintings in Hospitals also has a number of my photographs. I’ve been deeply touched when people have contacted me saying they have been going for treatment or have been accompanying a relative that’s undergoing treatment and been comforted seeing my works on the wall of a hospital.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment Art wise?

I think that every project is an accomplishment because it involves risk-taking, stepping into the unknown and going on a journey. There’s a tremendous sense of achievement when one comes to the end of a project. The completion of what started as the germ of an idea, in the mind, becoming tangible. It’s an amazing process and keeps me committed to art. In a way, I feel like I don’t have any choice but to be an artist and make art!

Where can people find out a little bit more about you?

Some of my work can be seen here at Combe Grove and there is information about me on the website for Howard Yezerski Gallery in Boston. I’ll also be creating my own art website soon.