Friday, April 17, 2009

Art Space Talk: Sarah Maple

Sarah Maple has been called many things due to her art-- some people have lashed out at her with vulgar anonymous messages, others have praised her for her bravery and humor, some have called her the heir to Tracey Emin's throne. One thing is for certain-- she is not going to stop.

Sarah Maple

Brian Sherwin: Sarah, having interviewed you twice before I know that many people have misconceptions about your work. Many suggest that you do what you do simply for shock value. However, I believe that you are more concerned with the longevity of your art than simply producing a shock factor, so to speak. After all, your art is no more shocking than MTV-- and that is where the impact of your work can be found.
In my opinion, your art, specifically your series of photographs, documents aspects of cultural growth and expansion in that it captures the essence of youthful rebellion that has dominated culture, politics, and even religion in the last decade or so. In other words, if your art is shocking it is because society-- today-- is shocking. With that in mind-- your work grows with us and is therefore valid. What are your thoughts on this?
Sarah Maple: I agree!
This exhibition is shit by Sarah Maple

BS: Some of your recent exhibits have-- unfortunately-- involved harsh criticism from individuals who feel that you are exploiting your faith and ethnic background. For example, I’ve read that one exhibit was vandalized and that both you and the gallery owner had received death threats. Can you discuss your reaction to that form of aggression?

SM: At the time I was quite upset and disappointed and hugely frustrated. I was in no way exploiting, it just happens to be that Islam is so in the limelight right now that my work is receiving this attention. If this hadn't been the case I would have still had the same upbringing and I would have made work about it regardless. My work is very cathartic. I make work on my own experiences and feelings so it was natural for me to discuss it in my work and that's my right as an artist.

Fighting Fire with Fire No.2 by Sarah Maple

BS: When I interviewed you the first time you mentioned that there had been a few threats concerning you work. Has the recent controversy forced you to think twice about the direction of your work or the work that you choose to exhibit? Or has it inspired you to push your work further? In other words, does the anger inform you that you are in the right direction?

SM: It's inspired me in the way that I'm reacting to it. I mean I've been making work about the reaction and about offensive work and what is considered offensive, censorship, etc. So yes it was an inspiring experience. I would only change direction if I felt like I had dealt with the subject. Nobody can put pressure on me and force me to stop. I will not jeopardize my integrity as an artist.

I love Orgasms by Sarah Maple

BS: Has anyone ever suggested that you should stop due to concern for your safety? Do you have a point in your mind that would trigger you to stop creating-- or are you in it for the long haul, so to speak?

SM: I am in it for the long haul and I would not hold back on anything 'controversial' unless I felt it was immoral or disrespectful. That is why I will always stand by my work and not censor or destroy it.

BS: Can you describe how it feels to be caught between two ideologies? Perhaps you can put into words some of the personal conflict that arises from the meshing of East and West that is within you and that you have reflected with your work? Would you say that you are closer to establishing yourself as an individual regardless of your mixed heritage? Or do you think you will always be torn between the two?

SM: I think I will always be torn but things are becoming clearer, but it doesn't mean I'm happier with the's quite upsetting, I wish I was still in the dark. I need my Mum!

For me personally growing up the whole clash thing was upsetting because I so wanted to be the best muslim I could possibly be and I wanted to embrace my culture but I felt a fraud. I don't see the point in doing anything if it's not done properly. I think many muslims who criticize me do not have this conscience.
Men only... by Sarah Maple

BS: Lets talk about sex. In your images you often portray yourself as somewhere between man and woman or as a deceptive toy-- in that you play on the desires of heterosexual men while making a feminist statement. Sometimes these statements are clear while other times they are slightly concealed. Tell us about some of the themes you explore concerning sexuality and gender roles. Why do you capture these themes within the context of your art?

SM: I am very interested in roles and stereotypes and feminism is my favourite subject because mainly there are so many avenues and I'm still not sure where I stand. Part of me thinks men still rule the world (or think they do!!) so why not accept it and women use their bodies to exploit that fact....or do we try and change it and fight against it and question the ridiculous notion of post feminism. I could go on all day about this subject, it’s so close to my heart.
Cocks: Champs Cock by Sarah Maple

BS: You have also been known to be masculine with your work. For example, your series of photographs titled Cocks. Can you tell us more about that specific series and the meaning it has for you?

SM: I used to work in a shop and got so bored I used to show off by getting different objects and pretending they were cocks (just like in the photos, haha!). And that's literally how it started. I have always been interested in the penis, just by what it symbolises, the power. And all it is is a bit of silly skin that looks so funny. But to have that silly bit of skin attached to you means SO much.

I bought this book called 'the Big Penis book' and it explains all about the wang through history, it's fascinating. I wanted to almost mock it, or mock it's importance,. But at the same time it's my way of proudly adorning my own one!

BS: So is there a specific message you strive to convey concerning sex and the role of sex in contemporary society?

SM: I think sex is great but I don't want it to be about the control of women or the objectification of women....I want women to get some control.

I'm a feminist because my friends are by Sarah Maple

BS: What about the art world itself? Have you experienced any form of sexism when it comes to exhibiting? I recall an interview I had with Sylvia Sleigh, who is noted for having made some huge cracks in the glass ceiling of the art world. She suggested that sexism in the art world still exists, but she went on to suggest that she feels that men in the art world today have a better understanding of women and are more apt to view women as equals whether it be in the studio or in an exhibit. What say you?

SM: I totally agree there is still sexism. My 'I wish I had a penis' piece was all about the art world. But that was more about my experience at art college. Since then I have felt a lot more confident as a woman in the art world. Maybe because that fact is quite obviously the heart of much of my work.
Who decided...? by Sarah Maple

BS: What about the humorous aspect of your work. Most, if not all, of your work contains humor on one level or the other. Based on prior conversations it would seem that humor is something you embrace. Do you think that it is important to be able to laugh-- even in the face of controversy and dealing with serious issues? Can you discuss that aspect of your work?

SM: There was a point where I considered I'd been foolish trying to discuss quite serious issues in such a light hearted way....but that's just me, there is always wit and humour. I don't see the point without. I just wouldn't bother if I couldn't be funny. I see the funny side in everything, even in the horrible things people say, I take inspiration from it all.

BS: In closing I’m going to ask one question: Who is Sarah Maple?

SM: I'm nice. And I like cats.

Links of Interest:

You can learn more about Sarah Maple by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter


nathaniel said...

cats are indeed awesome

Donald Frazell said...

Cats? Not crazy about em, roam my yard from my neighbors, chase away the birds. Used to have a purpose and eat tree rats, but the possums and now squirrels eat em as we are going back to nature in the LBC, teenagers already wild.

Other than that, they lay in my plants and lay little presents in my garden.

So liking felines and proclaiming oneself to be nice, as well as first wanting to be seen as Islamic, then saying she doesnt fit in, then that observant Muslims just arent as fair minded as she is, is nice?

She is like a cute puppy herself, a child. And all this is seen from a protected princesses point of view. Perhaps they have a London 90210 for her? Not art, jsut self expression, which is therapy for adolescents. Fewer and fewer kids grow up these days.

Oh, and my wife grew up in Islam, you just dont get it. It is best if you just stop trying, to act like you are anything but a white English girl. Maybe a role on Living with the Kardashians? Armenians aren't too fond of Muslims, but thats not a problem in this case.

I thought all this Saatchi YBA stuff was over? DOA actually.

art collegia delenda est