Sarah Maple is a British artist who’s known for her provocative pieces based on feminism and religion. After graduating with a BA in Fine Art from Kingston University in 2007, her work has been featured in the Guardian and you can even find it for yourself in a London tube station. Sarah admits she didn’t go to art school with being a political voice in mind, but it was during this time that she felt like she found what she wanted to say.
“It was one day after a bad critic I still wasn’t identifying as a feminist, but all of a sudden I realized that the men in my class were always taken more seriously than the women,” she says. “And it was both genders that were doing this, like it was subconscious. I realized for the first time that I may be held back in life because of my gender.”
While driving home and mulling over this sudden realization, Sarah came up with the text from her earlier piece, ‘Signs.’ The text reads: ‘I wish I had a penis because then I’d fuck you, then steal your job.’ And with that, a tone was set for Sarah’s art: Using it to make unapologetically bold statements.
In her pieces Sarah has explored issues of religion – notably Islam, being that she’s half Muslim herself – along with how they tie into women’s issues. For example, one renowned piece is titled ‘Menstruate with Pride,’ in which Sarah tackles the shame many religious societies have around the very natural occurrence of menstruation.
Sarah has provoked some strong opinions regarding her artistic statements, and she points to the unexpected positive feedback that helps her stand firmly behind her work through the criticism she has received.
“I would never expect to get an email from a guy in Lebanon a few weeks back saying how much they loved my work and how inspired they were,” she says. “It’s those emails that get me through! Also, a friend’s Mum was really emotional and saying now ‘Menstruate with Pride’ had struck a chord with her – that was really amazing. It helps on the difficult days.”
But it’s not always easy to receive negative reactions to your work, no matter how much you’re prepared for it. This was especially true for Sarah’s exhibition titled ‘God is a Feminist,’ where Sarah processes the intersectional relationship she carries being a half Muslim women. The negative reactions to these pieces even came with death threats. The artist admits that the threats made her hesitant to have a public dialogue about Islam again, but overall hasn’t silenced her from using her religion as the focal point of her art in the future.
Even though putting herself at the forefront of her art can have the potential for dangerous consequences, Sarah has chosen to include herself in her exhibitions more often than not. She recently had a show where she wasn’t featured at all, and says that it just didn’t feel right.
“I think because [my pieces] are so personal to me, it feels natural to be in them,” she says. “I also think I can bring something unique to it through my facial expressions, the look my eyes, that intimacy I don’t think I can get a model to replicate. I would only have a model if there was a specific reason why, otherwise it defaults to me. And I actually do love being in them too, it’s part of the fun!”
Sarah recognizes that there’s becoming a trend of young people taking ownership of their appearance in art. “I was thinking the other day just how many young women are making great work through self-portraits at the moment,” she says. “I think it must be something to do with women wanting to take ownership of their own image or of how women are portrayed. I’m not exactly sure, but it’s very interesting.”
Sarah’s artistic choices have obviously paid off, as the Sky Academy Arts Scholarship was recently awarded to her. The artist was one of five chosen out of over a thousand applicants. This grants her £30,000 (over $45,000 USD) towards the development of one of her projects.
These days Sarah is part of an empowering show called ‘Art of Nuisance’ in London, where she and four other artists were commissioned to make an ‘object of nuisance.’ Sarah made an ‘Anti Rape Cloak’ to protect herself from the lustful eyes of men and to comment on the notion that women who dress a certain way are asking to get raped. She took pictures of herself in the cloak in various places such as downtown Las Vegas and in a car parking lot, many places where women all over the world are raped every day.
Sarah’s art portrays a frustration that many of us have on a daily basis. Her effectiveness as an artist lies in being able to provoke thought and in turn open a dialogue about the issues we aren’t often able to talk about in a public forum. And excitingly, because of Sarah, things are changing.
Article written by Henrieta Lau. Published in the Winter 2016 issue of FLURT.