5 hours ago
Saturday, 27 June 2009
Sarah Maple interview
Location: Crawley (UK)
How would you describe your art? Light-hearted, funny, political
Currently working on: Just been working on some new photographs for a group show at Scream Gallery
Day job: Bookshop
3 Likes: The Apprentice, Dinosuars, Kate Moss
3 Dislikes: Money, holidays, Kate Moss
Daily Inspirations: Things people say
People & artists you admire: My Tiger My Timing, Sophie Calle, Stella Vine, Charlie Brooker, Chris Morris, Patrick Wolf
Favourite album(s) to listen to when working: Anything by The Smiths
Interview date: May 2008
Hi Sarah, how are you? What are you up to at the moment?
Really great, Just had a group show at Salon gallery in Notting Hill, another coming up at Scream Gallery in Mayfair and my first in New York next month!
I’ve dithered a little bit with this interview cuz I’ve been a bit disappointed in myself; but I realised I must suck it all up and write these questions regardless... You see, despite knowing just why the discussion of race and ethnicity (or lack of thereof) in contemporary art is so important to discuss and raise and challenge, I have done so little of that within this zine in the past, and I feel so shitty that it’s with a Muslim artist that I begin to ask questions about race and ethnicity - why haven’t I been able to do this with white artists??
Anyway, less of the guilt, and more of the discussion -- is it important to you that by its very nature your art challenges, and raises awareness of race and ethnicity within (largely white) contemporary art circles?
This isn't something that I aimed to do when I made the work, I made the work for me because it was what I wanted to do at the time. Now I can see what it is doing in the art world. I think it has opened people up to not make an assumption about someone because of their race etc. A lot of people are surprised that I was raised Muslim. I think people are so scared of Islam and are surprised that I make light of things that people are taking very seriously.
Your work, whether the self-portraiture, or the representation of yourself as a Muslim woman, or indeed your representation of yourself as a female subject all quite clearly pinpoint the importance of Identity within your work.
How important is representing identity in your artworks and to your artistic practice/production?
Again this is not something I actively seek out to do - it always seems to creep it's way in there. I think people are obsessed with their identity and self image and this is important because we all want to know who we are and where we come from. In my work I am the subject but I become different people, different identities. I think we all have different parts of ourselves that we are almost unaware of. They lie beneath the surface. I've always thought of my art self as another person, like an alter ego, like it's a character, but then I think that that part of me has come from me somewhere so it must be part of who I am. Different people/circumstances etc bring out different parts of us I think.
Aside from the politics of ‘representing’ identity, it seems clear that it is important to you to *challenge* pre-conceived, or prejudicial notions of what it means to be identified as ‘Musilim’, or ‘female’, or ‘an artist’, or any number of other identifiers.
To what degree with your work are you wishing to provide alternative viewpoints, and provide a less blinkered understanding of what modern-day diverse ‘identity’ means.
(I’m thinking here of your Burka photographs taken on Brighton pier, enjoying deckchair and mermaid fun!)
I think we all make assumptions about other people based on race, looks etc. My friend was showing me her university pics and showed me a picture of this Muslim girl in a headscarf and said 'You wouldn't think it to look at her but this girl is really funny'. I found this hilarious as it was almost as if she thought I would presume this person completely dull because she had a headscarf on. I think the humour in the work I made with the burkas is that the burka is such an eastern symbol and to see it teamed with western icons (e.g my painting 'blue, badges, burka') just looks very odd, almost wrong. In a way I suppose this is symbolic of the difficulties in combining extreme eastern influences with western culture, and the impact this has on Muslim kids that end up going all nutty and extremist because they can't find a happy balance between the two.
I am very interested in what you have written in ‘artist statements’ etc about how some of your work represents the confusion Muslims do, or may, feel between the cultural attitudes of Islam, and those of western societies and environments. You have claimed that your work questions ‘what makes a ‘good’ Muslim, especially in a western society’.
Something that is keenly obvious to me is that this questioning is made all the more challenging when the subject in question is a *female* subject.
Is this part of the reasoning why you use yourself, a British, female, Muslim, as the focus of many of your pieces?
Not necessarily...I suppose in a sort of confessional way, the work came from my own experience and feelings about this. I found the headscarf amusing after a while because it seemed many women began to wear it to make a point, like they were scared to lose their identity or it made them feel more holy. I always felt bad for not wearing one and thought how much better these women were then me. Then one day I suppose I thought thinking that way was bollocks and then I did all this art.
I guess, linked to the above question is the notion of (tongue in cheek?) ‘deviancy’, or ’subversion’ in your artwork.
To what degree do you think using female, or Muslim subjects and points of reference helps you to explore (and ridicule?) the politics of ’appropriateness’?
I’m thinking here of your triptych, ‘Signs’ which has images of yourself in more ‘sexual’, ‘assertive’, and ‘confrontational’ (for whatever these words mean) guises than some would find “comfortable” being expressed by a Muslim woman. (Bleugh!)
I used the words ‘deviancy’ and ‘subversion’ and ‘appropriateness’ above and not the word ‘controversial’, or the term ‘offensive’, because I’m hugely aware that as a Muslim yourself you are not aiming for your Islamic based art to be offensive in any way. Have you received any feedback from people who have not understood this, and your own personal connection to your subject(s)?
Some people thought I was just trying to be really offensive when I first started out. But I think more people know about me now and just accept what I do or want to pretend I don't exist, haha! I have been called all sorts of things which I'm totally used to, it's just if they attack the work itself without giving it any thought, that really annoys me. What I want is for people to think. I think I get away with a lot because the work is playful. If it was aggressive in anyway I think I would be in a lot more trouble.
Alongside identity, within your work there seems to be a discourse around the nature of ‘art’ and what it means to be an ‘artist’.
I’m thinking of pieces such as your paintings, ‘I can paint. Where’s my fucking medal’, your photograph ‘art is crap’, and your piece, ‘I am talentless. I do not have the answers’.
Does being ‘an artist’, studying art, and the whole realm of the ‘art world’ sit somewhat uncomfortably with you in the sense that these pieces would make me think?
I find the art world absolutely baffling and it makes me feel quite uncomfortable, I would like to live in a cave and make all my work and have someone else deal with all that business and wanky stuff. Art is a business which is a fact. but I just want to stay in a romantic world where creativity and actual appreciation of art is the most important thing, not just money. I found art school quite hard as well because people were always talking arty bullshit and I couldn't really understand what they were talking about. This has fed a lot into my work like you mentioned above and with reference to money - 'Minimun' for example which is a white board that simply says 'I am £10,000.'
Last year you [quite deservedly] won the Saatchi/Channel 4 ‘4 New Sensations’ art prize.
What will, or what has winning this Saatchi award already granted you? (whether in terms of exposure, or luxuries, or space, or whatever else!)I think the connections I made were great and being able to put Saatchi's name to me is a head start a new graduate can only dream of really. It's amazing what a name can do for you.
A large portion of your work depicts cultural subjects and pop culture icons.
How obsessed with Kate Moss are you, really!!??
Haha!! It's not so much HER I am interested in, I am fascinated by her as an icon. I fascinated by the fact she goes wrong all the time, but still gets it right. Like her tripping up all the time makes her all the more perfect. She can do no wrong, she is an icon and everyone bloody loves her.
Is your focus on pop culture celebration, or subversion?
Umm......both! We cannot hide from it's influence.
I have fallen head over heels for pieces that take a tongue-in-cheek look at sexuality. Pieces such as the ‘have you wanked over me yet’ photograph, or the pieces featuring melons and tampons!
These three pieces are great examples of your use of humour to tackle tough conceptual and political ideas.
To what degree does your work require you to have a sense of humour, and require the same of your audience in tackling such strong and complex issues?
It is obviously very important to have a sense of humour when looking at my work, some people totally miss the point which is also quite funny. Some people do not get it at all. It's needed in equal measure because I'm not sure people would get the point without getting the humour first. I'm also lucky because even if people don't really care for my point, they still got something from the work in terms of a giggle.
A huge aspect of your work involves use of your self within your art. As a young, Muslim women, parallels are obviously going to be drawn between yourself and the subjects you portray. To what degree is your work portrait and autobiography?
I think it is very much autobiography because I base it all on things I am thinking and experiencing but I think I am quite good at detaching myself also. So it's not always traced back to me. Even though it came from me. If that makes sense!
How much do you enjoy the dressing up and performative aspect of your work and artistic process? Looks like hella fun to me!
I bloody love dressing up, I didn't realise how much so until I did it for my art. I love choosing quirky things that I think will look great in a picture, it's just finishing touches like a pair of pants or earrings then can make or break an image I think e.g self portrait with Kate Moss (I'm wearing 'I heart England' pants!). I definitely become a different character when I'm in front of the camera, i think that's why even though they are all pics of me, they don't get boring because I'm a different person in each one.
Parts of the British media have been dubbing you the “heir to Tracey Emin’s throne”. As such, sitting on your throne, who would you knight, and whom would you throw to the lions?
Hmmm.........I could not possibly say!!!