Sarah Maple interview transcript
On Saturday, I interviewed the art world’s latest enfant terrible Sarah Maple. You can read my November feature on Sarah Maple here, or just keep reading for the full transcript.
Hi Sarah, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I’m just going to ask a few basic questions first up to make sure I’ve got all my facts right. Where did you study and when did you graduate?
I studied at Kingston University and graduated in June 2007.
And where do you live now?
Just outside London, near Gatwick airport.
Is it nice?
Um… no. But it’s ok for now.
How has the Saatchi / Channel 4 New Sensations prize affected your career so far?
It’s been really great in providing that little extra thing to get my work noticed. If you say Saatchi, then everybody goes ooooh, and obviously you get to go on TV so it’s a good bit of exposure.
Would you like to be a celebrity?
Not like a Heat magazine celebrity, but I wouldn’t mind being someone like a Tracey Emin, well known in the art world. But I don’t want my cellulite circled in magazines!
Is Tracey Emin a big influence?
Yeah, I mean our work is very different, but I do really aspire to be someone like her in terms of her success.
There are similarities in the sense of your work having an immediate impact. Is that something you get from her, or is that something that was there anyway?
I think it was there anyway. Maybe she influenced my earlier work when I was at college, but now I’m doing my own thing more.
Has there been a development in your style since then?
Since leaving college? Definitely. I think having more space and being able to do my own thing has been inspiring. I definitely feel more inspired having left college.
How did you get the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Nick Knight and Jefferson Hack involved in Who Would Wood Wank?
Oh yes, I have to plug Dolce & Gabbana! When I did the Saatchi thing, they did a piece on me in Dazed and I became quite good friends with one of the journalists there. Jefferson noticed my work, and then when he was asked to do this Political Fashion film by Nick Knight, – he’d asked a load of celebrities to do these films for his website – Jefferson wanted an artist to collaborate, so he asked me. Which is very nice.
How have people reacted to Who Would Wood Wank?
Well, it was meant to go on the website (www.showstudio.com) but Nick actually pulled it at the last minute, the day before in fact, because he was worried about a potential backlash. Which is funny because he’s normally the one causing all the controversy. He didn’t want to be responsible for me getting hurt or anything. But then he changed his mind, so two or three months later we showed it only for a week. And now we’re keeping it exclusively at SaLon.
How important is it simply to be shocking or controversial? Is that a deliberate strategy?
Possibly. Shock can be good because it helps to get your point across. But I don’t want to be the kind of person who’s doing it just for that instant *gasp of shock*. I want my work to have some longevity.
And comedy? How important is comedy in your work?
I like that people find my work funny, but I want people to think about what I’m trying to say as well.
And what is that? Is there a single unifying thought process?
It’s hard to pinpoint a single thing because there’s so many ideas and so many different elements. But the works primarily came from about two years ago when I was thinking a lot about my cultural identity – my mixed parentage. I was kind of trying to ‘find myself’ I know that sounds really rubbish, and a bit poncey but… I was struggling with the two halves. My dad is British, my mum was born in Kenya, she’s a Muslim. And all my life I wanted to be a really good Muslim, but when I grew up I began to think I should embrace my western side as well. Because I am two things and I shouldn’t feel guilty about being a western girl.
But I always felt really guilty about it. And so the work is about whether you combine these two things successfully and whether they can work together. I think that’s something that you can see in the world at the moment. East and West don’t necessarily understand each other. Muslims living over here find it hard to integrate. And a lot of people who are Muslim over here find it hard to keep hold of their identity. So they drift towards the extreme.
Do you think your work is likely to help any integration process?
Erm, I’m not sure if it’s going to help. I think people who feel the same way as me are pleased. I get a lot of emails and support from other Muslims, who are really pleased that somebody is saying this. It’s a really great feeling when somebody says something like that. But I don’t know if my work is going to change anything.
I think it’s a positive thing, because often when people think of Muslims, they get scared and think you’re going to bomb them or something. But Islam is such a beautiful religion and it’s such a shame that people think that.
Are you still a practicing Muslim?
Definitely, I am a Muslim. But I’m western as well.
There does seem a lot of guilt in your work, (eg Harram II) Do you think that’s something specific to Islam, or just to any strict system of thought?
Well I think I feel guilt, that I’m not doing the right things or not being good enough, or guilty towards my parents. Look at Harram II. I did this thing called Muslim Café and we were discussing whether Muslims can have fun, and they were saying how you shouldn’t listen to music because music harram (basically Arab for ugly). And I just though god I can’t do this. If listening to music is wrong, I just cannot live like this.
How do your parents respond to your work?
Err, well because they’re my parents (and they love me!) they’re worried for me, and my mum is obviously very worried. They’re definitely proud of my achievements but she’s going to be scared of the backlash. She can’t be a 100% happy.
Have they seen the video?
Ha! No! No way. I would do anything to stop them seeing the video…
How do you feel about today’s celebrity culture?
Well the whole culture is very bizarre. I think it’s rubbish, but then I’m drawn to Heat magazine. I mean it’s ridiculous. Why would I want to look at say, Abigail Clancy on the beach? But I do… I’m drawn to celebrity culture because there’s something very moreish about it. Maybe I’m just a voyeur!
How about the feminist tag? Is that something you would tie yourself too?
Initially people were saying ‘oh you’re a feminist’ and I was like ‘no, I’m not’
Yeah shutup! But now I think actually I am a feminist very much. And I think I’m quite masculine in my work. I’m doing a series at the moment called Cocks, where I just take random objects and hold them like a cock. There’s this whole thing about power, the male and everything. I think my work is going to go more in that direction in the future.
Do you see this as a reversion to ‘old school’ feminism?
I’m championing women. The feminist thing is a tough question. I think, um. I’m pro-women!
Well, that’s good!
I’m up for the promotion of women!
Also, in the Muslim culture the man is a very celebrated thing. My brother is treated like a king because he’s a man. I looked at this in Sarah Maple – ARTIST, Hannah Maple – DOCTOR, Alexander Maple – MALE. All he needs to be is a man: that’s enough of an achievement!
Does it take you very long to do some of your works?
The photos are very instantaneous – they take about a day. And I’ve got very quick with my painting too, I could knock one out in about a week or so. Knock one out! Hee hee…
There was a piece in the Gurdian recently about how male artists can charge much more for their works than females. (You can check it out here) Does that surprise you?
Women are the lesser sex!
How can you believe in something like Islam that seems to stand in direct opposition to your belief in female equality?
This is one thing that used to make me really annoyed and I think it’s just a misunderstanding. A lot of people argue that the Koran says that women are the lesser sex, but it doesn’t say that at all. The Koran says to respect your wife, respect your mother, because they bear children, they do everything! The Koran does actually say that everyone is equal; it’s just culturally people assume that women should do what they’re told. It’s not the religion, it’s just the culture.
Does your work try to reconcile these differences or exaggerate them?
I think I’m showing the disparity between the two and that it seems wrong to put them together. That’s what I think is quite funny about I Love Orgasms for example. Because the two don’t make sense together. I don’t know they ever can unless we understand each other and I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel at the moment. The work comes from quite a personal place, because it’s me trying to combine these two things. Whether you can I’m not sure.
Do you think a work like I Love Orgasms will still be funny in ten years? Or fifty?
Yeah! Definitely! I don’t think much is going to change. You’re not going to get a women in a burka telling everyone how much she likes orgasms.
I saw this great thing the other day. This women in a burka was walking past, and all these chavvy teenagers were clustering around staring at her, and she just went (Sarah sticks two fingers up) and I just thought ‘whheyyy’! I mean there were faults on both parts: you can’t wear a burka in Crawley and expect people not to notice, but then you should be respectful as well. I mean I was looking at her as well, going like ‘wow she’s wearing her burka’!
God, if only you’d had a camera!
Yeah, that just epitosed all my artwork!
Are there any contemporary artists you particularly admire?
The way you sign your name is similar to Stella Vine.
Yeah, before I thought I’m just gonna go with signing the back and being really cool. But now I think, ‘I made this painting and I’m just going to plaster my name all over it’. The signature is part of the painting now – some work I take longer doing the signature than the whole picture!
Do your ideas come to you quickly or is it something you really have to sit and think about?
Well, something like You could have done this: that just came to me. And I just thought I can’t believe I hasn’t done it before, because that’s what everybody says isn’t it?
Yeah, I can’t believe nobody has done that before!
I like laughing at the ridiculousness of the art world.
(I tell Sarah about a recent performance at the ICA by Alexander Brener. You can read about it by clicking on the link). What do you think about something like that?
I find poo quite funny so it’s going to entertain me. He could just be a bit of a twat, just going around pooing all the time.
Yeah, I mean someone has to clean it up!
I find it hard to believe that anybody would have the nerve to do a shit in a lecture. I find it hard enough just to put my hand up!