In Conversation with Sarah Maple

Why do you define yourself an artist? And what is the role that art has in your everyday life?
I think it is there in my everyday life because I see art in everything…especially conversations. I always pick up on things people say and use them in my work, or they inspire a piece. Everything I see everyday from TV, advertising, the internet, family and friends, all these things influence me and inform the decisions I make as an artist.

Why do you consider yourself a “Feminist?” And what is for you “Feminism?”
To me feminism is a much broader term than what it is perceived. For me it all about equality, equality between all people. It’s funny how so many people agree on these principles but so scared of the word ‘feminism’. In my work I use humour and other ways to getting across this message, like a trojan horse.

I know you use art in different ways: paintings, video, photography, and performance… What work do you most enjoy doing?
It’s hard to say because I love them all, I take joy in them all. I always saw myself primarily as a painter but photography opened up so much for me as well. I love how each media can say and do so much used in the right way.

What do you want to achieve and/or demonstrate with your art?
For me the most important thing about the art is the message, I want to make people think and I want to bring about change. I want my work to challenge what is seen as ‘the norm’. I always aim to make my viewer question the world around them. I’m not sure art has the same power that it used to, but I try my best!

I have seen in your work that ‘Islam’ is a repeated topic, I know you have a mixed religious background , but why for you is it so important to talk about it?
I haven’t made work on this theme for a few years now, it was something at the time that I felt the urge to speak about and comment on. Not only was I commenting on the world around me but on my own life experiences with I felt was a reflection on the current political climate. People often ask if I will return to this theme….as a muslim it is part of who I am so I think I will return to it at some point but not right now. I felt I’ve said what I needed to say.

What do you want to denounce in your performance It's just like any other job really - dedicated to world peace?
The piece was inspired by artist Santiago Serra who had a successful show in London at the time. I found the great thing about performance is that you can have an idea about what you want to say and how you want yourself/viewers to feel, but you will only really know the impact when you are performing. In this piece we had 30 girls doing a ‘Miss World’ catwalk and then standing silently against a wall for a whole day. It looked incredible but was very hard work, 5 girls fainted. The gallery was all glass and the viewer had to look from the outside, like we were untouchable in this goldfish bowl. It was a very surreal experience, being watched in this way….definitely an experience I won’t forget!

Can women do everything?

“Menstruate with pride” would you talk about it?
This piece was inspired by a group called ‘Adventures in Menstruating’ who I saw perform in New York. They spoke about the shame women are made to feel about this, mainly through the media and advertising. It made me think about this on a wider scale, how women are made to feel bad and ashamed about their bodies. Ultimately it is all to make us buy things. It also reminded me of menstruating in religion and how it is perceived as dirty, especially in Islam. In my piece I wanted to subvert this. The women in the centre is proudly menstruating, whilst all the others around her are shocked and horrified. I also wanted to emulate the classical religious paintings. Instead of mocking her, we end up laughing at the crowd….it makes us question why they are reacting this way. A lot of my work is like this – instead of bringing attention to the taboo itself, we question why it is a taboo.

You have been named “The heir to Tracy Emin's throne.” What do you think about? Are you happy of this title or are you disturbed of being identified with someone else’s art?
It is very flattering as she is such a well known artist however I do find it funny also. They never compare me to a man, I would never be ‘the next Damien Hirst’. They feel they must compare me only to another woman. I always get referred to as a ‘female artist.’ You never hear the term ‘male artist.’

You use your image in all your work. Is that your way to interact personally with the world? Why? Is it a sort of re-appropriation of female figure?
I use myself because it feels natural to do so, I don’t think that a model could put across the things I want to say in EXACTLY the way I want them to be seen….it’s all about the look in the eye and only I can get that perfect because only I really know what I’m trying to say. I love being in the pieces and I suppose it is a personal touch, however I don’t want to be too personal, if I see my own eyes or facial expression in a picture I would never use it. I am always acting in all of my pieces, there is a cool detachment between myself the person and the character of me as an artist.