Notorious young artist Sarah Maple has been making waves with her confrontational work since her graduation in 2007, immediately picking up attention and collaborations with Charles Saatchi, Dolce and Gabbanna and Dazed and Confused.
Her paintings, photography, performance and mixed media sculptures frequently reference and seek to stir debate around the issues of femininity, feminism, the Muslim female identity and sexuality. We dropped Sarah a line to find out more about the notions behind her controversial images….
Do you identify as a feminist artist? Have you ever experienced prejudice in your field because of your gender?
I am very proud to identify myself as a feminist artist. I think there are alot of people, women included, who shy away from the term thinking it means something militant or outdated and that was definitely one of the key things that spurred me on in putting this all together, to try and change that attitude. Putting together the event I found myself up against roadblocks not because I’m a woman but because I was acting on behalf of a feminist organization. Other than Aubin providing the space, we couldn’t get sponsorship, for example, because we could find a company willing to be put their name to something associated with feminism. I feel that I have experienced prejudice as a woman not just in my field but there is always the fear that, as a woman, your voice won;t be heard as clearly as a mans which is obviously bollocks.
What issues do you think are the most pertinent for modern women in the UK?
I think that first and foremost we need to address the attitudes that the mainstream media have towards women. It’s 2010 and there is still a pair of tits on the third page of a national newspaper everyday. The female body is used as a commodity to sell pretty much everything and I believe this has a knock-on effect in our society. If we lived in a society where young women were taught to respect themselves and their bodies and if we were able to reinforce this by showing them that society in turn respects them I think we’d be making some headway.
What is your understanding of, and/or involvement with contemporary feminism?
I want to be as involved as possible. In my work I am addressing personal things that happen to translate into broader feminist themes. I think contemporary feminism doesn’t have to be bogged down in the past, we don’t have to think of it as second or third wave anything it’s just got to be intelligent discussion about moving forward equally in society. I think there are alot of people doing and saying alot of amazing and empowering things for feminism and about feminism and I really feel like there is a wave of young, interesting people coming through that can really make a difference and connect to a mainstream audience with feminist issues.
Do you see art as a purely political device?
I see art as a way of sparking a debate. Whether it’s about politics or whether or not someone has nice tits it really depends on the audience.
Your 2009 ‘Page 3’ protest was certainly direct action- do you continue to perform interventionist art?
I will certainly continue to strongly object to things that I see as ridiculous or unhelpful, Page 3 in particular. I’m not giving up on that one. I think it’s an interesting way of working, it’s far more unpredictable and far more of a direct collaboration with an audience which can be very scary but it’s certainly something I will continue to pursue.
Which contemporary artists inspire you?
Curating a show (ED. For Feminism in London 2010) which includes work by Gerald Laing, Stuart Semple and Julian Opie is definitely a surreal but thrilling experience. In terms of raising awareness for the cause I’m most excited by the contributions from people like Kate Nash, Miriam Elia and Riz Ahmed. These people can connect directly with a new, young audience, that can put across the message that feminism is an important issue, now more than ever and it effects everyone, men as much as women.
Your art work frequently references religion and race; how do these issues affect your personal life?
In my work I’m trying to articulate the experiences of being a western woman and also a Muslim which are not two things that seem, on a very basic Daily Mail level, to go hand in hand. It’s difficult, obviously, to juggle these two identities especially when I was at school, living at home and being one thing with my friends and something very different with my family. It’s still very much there in the back of my mind, a constant guilt in a way, about being a good Muslim and trying to be as assimilated to Western culture as possible. The themes in my work are really just the themes from my life. I try and make my work as personal and as true to my own experiences as possible. If they ring true with me I know they’ve done their job and then they go on and seem to ring true with other people and that’s really an amazing feeling.
Have you ever experienced criticism from (other, if you identify as one) feminists for your explicit figurative pieces “…join them…”, “Using my intelligence” or do you feel that you are clearly commenting on exploitative use of the female form?
My favourite piece of criticism I’ve ever had is ‘Maple’s art relies purely on her being attractive and Muslim’ which wasn’t about either of the pieces you mentioned but pretty much sums up the tone of some of the criticism I get. Of course I feel that I’m clearly commenting on exploitative use of the female form but that’s because I really am but there’s no way to go round and explain to all of the critics one by one what my intentions were or what each piece of work means and I wouldn’t want to. The whole point of art, as I see it, is to raise debate.
You can find out more about Sarah and see her portfolio at www.sarahmaple.com