The Muse: Sarah Maple, the artist blending pop culture and unapologetic activism

“It feels like we are living in a very strange time, this 'post truth' world,” Sarah Maple says. “Of course I have always doubted that politicians are telling the truth but now I think it's probably worse than it's ever been.” Bold, funny and ridiculous, the British sociopolitical artist is no stranger to the art of provocation; exploring ideas from censorship, religion, terror, freedom and feminism in her works. To celebrate her forthcoming solo exhibition 'Thoughts And Prayers' at Untitled Space in NYC, HUNGER caught up with the British talent to talk satire, struggle and the harnessing the power of social media.

Hey Sarah! Talk us through the starting point for your upcoming solo exhibition in NYC ‘Thoughts and Prayers’?

My particular piece ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ came out of a moment of pure frustration after yet another shooting in the States last year. When someone in a position of power comes out and says their ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ are with victims and families, it just sounds so hollow and insincere when nothing is done and they are well aware nothing will be done. But you see this in different ways all over the world. Then you think about the demonising of immigrants as ‘murderers and rapists’ by Trump….playing on the fear of the ‘other’ and what that’s done in recent years is so scary. For me the ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ thing becomes so much bigger, for me it symbolises a complete lack of action from our elected people all over the world. So in my piece ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ I created a text print and took it to a shooting range. I then hung it up and shot the hell out of it! The resulting work is ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ prints covered in bullet holes with an accompanying performance video.

How do you aim to combat ideas of femininity through your work?

I think like most feminists, the idea of ‘femininity’ can be a challenge. The idea of what that is drummed into Women from such a young age! I like to challenge what is deemed attractive like in my piece ‘Lollypop Lollypop’ I created this perfect girly pink pin up image but with a hairy armpit – to question those instinctive reactions we have to find this repulsive. We still have a long way to go. I like to create new imagery of what it is to be a woman – I look at the theme of shame a lot, especially around female sexuality and our simple bodily functions.

“Menstruate with Pride” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019

What themes are you most interested in exploring? And how has your style evolved since you started out?

Much of my work is motivated by feminism and my Muslim upbringing. I am also very interested in politics and much of my work responds to the here and now, I think that is my way of making sense of it. I want to do something about certain issues but I don’t have the political mind so I channel it through my work, without that I think I’d go insane!

It has evolved hugely, previously I mainly worked in self portraiture photography and painting. Now I have worked across so many different media, it’s hard to sum up what I do! I think because my work always starts with the idea first, then I choose the best media to express that idea, so it really could be anything, performance, video, sculpture. I think to be honest I had more fun in the early days, I was a lot more organic, now I’m always wondering what people will think about this or that. This is why recently I have loved working in collage, I like that I don’t have to plan anything and the fun just happens organically.

Your projects have always been considered pretty provocative, is there a culture of fear growing in society in your opinion in 2019?

Fear is one of the intense emotions a human can feel. And this has been used very irresponsibly to completely change the future of our country.

“In Time” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019

Any subjects you wouldn’t want to address for whatever reason?

The transgender debate seems extremely toxic at the moment amongst feminist circles…I have something to say but I am keeping out of that one for the time being. I am waiting for the appropriate way to articulate it.

When did you first fall in love with art? What are some of your earliest memories?

Initially I became interested because I knew I could draw and paint and simply wanted to keep doing it to see how good I could get. But I think I actually fell in love with art when I realised the power it has to communicate. I started looking at really exciting artists like Sarah Lucas, Frida Kahlo and Barbara Kruger. I realised I could use art to say the things I wanted to say.

“Human Trapped” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019

For you personally, how can social media be good/bad thing for young artists, and do you think it has a power to promote real change?

Social media is exhausting but it’s here to stay and actually it is great for certain causes. I think some of the biggest social change has happened because of it – in a good and bad way! It’s definitely had a positive impact on the feminist movement. Things were so different to ten years ago; you couldn’t get anyone to care about these things!

“Fighting Fire with Fire” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019

Who do you like to follow on Instagram?

Animal pages are the only thing that bring me joy. And art critic Jerry Saltz of course. The art pages often make me anxious, at one point I deleted everyone apart from Paul McCartney! My faves are @lovinganimals.dg, @worldofchowchow, @theworldaccordingtoharris, @ravenmaster1 and @jerrysaltz.

What challenges have you found young artists are facing now? 

I think money is a big thing, it’s so expensive to live anywhere now and pay for a studio. When I left art school I had a beautiful studio in Brighton for £140 a month! that just wouldn’t happen now. I think people do find a way but it is a struggle.

“Mars and Venus” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019
“Thoughts and Prayers” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019

The future of art, in one word?

Hell. I tried to think of something more positive but that was the first word that came to mind!!

What are you working on next?

I have a group show at the Baltic and then another solo coming up in Amsterdam at KochxBos Gallery.

“THOUGHTS & PRAYERS” A Solo Exhibition By Artist Sarah Maple, runs until February 9th at The Untitled Space in NYC. You can follow Sarah Maple on Instagram @msmapes.

Artworkall Sarah Maple. Used by permission.
InterviewEmma Firth