Q+A with Sarah Maple, Award-Winning Contemporary Artist + Political Activist

Saying we’re excited about this week’s feature would be an understatement. 

When starting BYOM earlier this year, we made a short list of potential Muses that was a mix of friends, peers, and role models. Phenomenal contemporary artist and socio-political commentator slash activist Sarah Maple was in the latter camp. She was someone we looked up to, because she seemed to know herself and trust her voice. We (of course) also admired her creative approach to life and her intelligently, joyfully irreverent artwork. 

Now that we’ve gotten to know her better through this interview, it’s clear that Sarah Maple is all of this and more. She’s an award-winning British artist and activist, satirist and spokesperson. She’s willing to not only be present and aware, but to challenge, creatively. Her generosity and good humor simply shine through the page! We’re so excited to introduce you to Sarah Maple and her incredible work.

The Basics

  • Age: 30
  • Location: West Sussex
  • Field of Interest: Art
  • What Inspired You Today? Facebook and my friend Dave
  • What’s Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? GSOH [Good Sense of Humor] hehe. And my determination.
  • What Are You Currently Reading and/or Listening To? I am about to read Penny Red by Laurie Penny and I am currently listening to The Black Album, which is a combination of all the best solo hits of the Beatles members, it’s so good!

Questions + Answers

As an artist, you show a willingness to explore difficult and sensitive political topics creatively. You also discuss these issues using satire. It’s a powerful combination, but one that is relatively rare in so-called “fine art.” Why did you decide to make these necessary statements through art and humor?

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“I’m An Edgy Contemporary Artist,” C-Type Print

I think humour is a really powerful tool to connect with people, but it has to be done in the right way; I think if you’re doing it just to shock or something then it doesn’t work, people see through that.

Initially I used to worry that people just thought I was ‘silly’, but I don’t care about that anymore because I think certain things need to be said and if we can have a laugh while doing them, then great. I love making people laugh and I think these are the things that stick with people and what people love.

I also want to make art that appeals to the wider public, not just the art crowd, I don’t see the point in that!

Some might consider your art a form of activism. Do you see it that way? Are you engaged in other types of activism?

I totally see it as activism, this is what motivates me to work. I think art gives me a powerful voice. Yes I am engaged in other types of activism too, anything I can do to help really.

I think people often feel that doing something small doesn’t matter, but I think it does! Even if you stand up to a rape joke or call someone out on something….all these small acts I believe can create a cultural shift, it doesn’t have to be a massive grand gesture.

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“Menstruate with Pride,” Oil on Canvas

When are you most creative? How do new ideas find you?

Often when I am reading or in transit! Or chatting with people who inspire me. I often get the best ideas from conversations. Most of my inspiration is not just art but the world around me, the internet, people, tv, music etc.

We love your recent piece, the Anti-Rape Cloak. It truly is an “object of nuisance,” made even more powerful because textiles are so commonly considered “women’s work” and sidelined throughout history. Could you explain your vision with this piece? Is it a commentary on the victim-shaming that often occurs in rape cases?

Well, I have had many friends go through sexual assault in some way – so many, a disturbing number of women. And sadly, not any of them reported this to the police. I think part of the reason for that was because they felt they were making a fuss or had somehow brought it on themselves. This really upsets me.

I was reading Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates and I realised how many women have gone through this and how the blame always seems to be put on the victim – by the abuser and often by the victim.

"Anti-Rape Cloak," Photograph, Las Vegas
“Anti-Rape Cloak,” Photograph, Las Vegas

It’s very odd that women are encouraged to be sexy, we are told constantly by the media that our sexiness dictates our value and worth, but then if we dress sexily we deserve to be raped. It’s a contradiction I can’t get my head around. It is also ridiculous to think that a bit of female flesh on view turns men into savage beasts who must have sex right away! It’s a damaging idea for both sexes!

Victim blaming really bothers me. And when people say you shouldn’t have been wearing this or that, you should dress modestly etc., it puts all the blame on the woman. A person should be able to wear whatever they like without the fear of being raped. My cloak is an ironic twist on this, as if by wearing a garment from head to toe, I am now completely safe from rape in any place, anywhere, any context. I am no longer ‘asking for it’. This is as ridiculous as the idea that women bring on abuse themselves.

"Anti-Rape Cloak," Oil on Canvas
“Anti-Rape Cloak,” Oil on Canvas

Unfortunately, there is not much coverage of feminist Muslim women (other than Malala), and very little amplification of these voices. How do the ideas of feminism and Islam intersect, in your experience?

There is not much visibilty for Muslim women and when there is, there are so many stereotypes. In my early work I tried to counteract these stereotypes when looking at the idea of ‘culture’ over religion and Muslim women and sexuality. For example, I made a painting of a woman wearing a burka with a crass badge saying ‘I heart orgasms’. I also made a painting of a self portrait holding a pig called ‘Haram’.

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“I Heart Orgasms,” Oil on Canvas

I am very interested in culture versus religion, I know in the past I have got things wrong because I only read the Quran in Arabic (which I don’t understand!) and not English. Later, I also responded to the idea of Islam being a misogynist religion in my work “God Is A Feminist,” where I made a huge powerful portrait of a Muslim woman.

god_is_a_feminist

So much of your work features self-portraiture, which makes the message that much stronger and more personal. However, I’d imagine that it also makes the creative process and critiques even more vulnerable. Have you found that to be accurate?

It’s funny because I don’t even see it as me in the pictures, it’s a kind of performance, I sort of feel removed from them. If there any pictures where I feel like you can really see ‘me’ in the eyes then I won’t use it! Oh dear that sounds really pretentious haha!

"Fighting Fire with Fire," Photograph
“Fighting Fire with Fire,” Photograph

We love that your work tackles taboos, and as such is risky and even provocative. Did you ever have moments of insecurity or indecision in challenging yourself and the viewer, and how did you overcome them?

I often have those moments, I think it depends on what the subject is and how I’m trying to say it, I always have to be 100% confident with what I am doing, especially when it is provocative and if I am okay with that then I’m good to go!

"Lollypop, Lollypop," C-Type Print
“Lollypop, Lollypop,” C-Type Print

The one piece I was really unsure of was the Anti-Rape Cloak to be honest. I was worried about making a joke of something that is so serious. I talked it through with many trusted friends and came to the conclusion that this topic needs to be talked about. I’m really proud of this work because it got such huge interest and I’m very happy that it got people talking about such an important issue.

Who inspires you?

My absolute inspiration is Alannah Currie, known as Miss Pokeno. She’s an artist and leader of the Sisters of Perpetual Resistance. She’s been a huge inspiration to me!
Follow Sarah on Instagram and Twitter.
+ Love Sarah Maple’s work? Let us know in the comments below!
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