Litro #150: Britishness: Artist Q & A with Sarah Maple

Sarah Maple

We interview our cover artist this month the British, Muslim-raised artist, Sarah Maple. Sarah is a recipient of this year’s £30,000 Sky Scholarship award – her father is white British, her mother is an Iranian Muslim – and she went to a Catholic school in Eastbourne. Sarah’s aesthetic narrative urges the viewer to challenge traditional notions of religion, identity and the societal role of women. She’s smoked in a hijab, worn fetish nappies and not shied away from menstruating in public.

Tell us about yourself, your background and ethos.

I just had the urge then to describe myself as a ‘female artist’. How ridiculous is that! Actually my work is about this sort of thing, I like to point out these funny things. I was raised as a Muslim with mixed parentage so a lot of my work looks at that identity and is informed by that upbringing. In my work I try to say something about the world around me and convince my viewer to see things in a different light.

Who inspires you?

All the amazing people who have a position of power and actually use it for good. Not only wealthy folk but I love people like comedian Aziz Ansari who has a huge platform and uses it to say so much about the world and in a way that people can relate to. To me that’s what makes great art!

How did you get into art?

It was a lifelong passion, I love it. I love when I see something and it really gets to me and changes how I see the world. I realized I could paint and draw when I was a child and in my late teens, early twenties I realized I could use it to say something about the things I care about. Art gives me a voice.

Can you tell us a bit about your art – what inspires you to focus paintings on your personal experiences; and how do you feel this has developed you as an artist? 

I see my art as a form of activism where I say the things I feel need to be said. I often use humour as it can be so powerful. I also get a kick out of making people laugh!

Art is about communication and expression. How does your work fit within our cultural conversation? And how do ensure the conversation carries on with your work?

I think just allowing everyone to feel open enough to debate things is so important. Especially right now when things feel so tense politically. It feels more and more like having to obsess with over what words we use or ‘fear of offending’ is becoming a problem with freedom of expression. We need to hear shitty things to ignite that fire in us to be active in politics. I worry about universities; I hate all this banning of controversial speakers. Stopping them from speaking will not make the comments go away. We need discussion! Especially at university!

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Kylie Jenner’s Instagram

What’s your earliest childhood memory?

Drinking tea with a spoon with an owl and the pussycat mug.

The theme for Litro this month is Britishness. How would you describe being British?

Drinking tea, feeling guilty, an inexplicable urge to join any queue, over politeness…. Granted, we’ve done some shitty things in our history like all countries – but I do feel proud to be British. I feel very fortunate to have been raised here.

Can you give us your top 5-10 tips for budding artists?

1. If someone tells you you shouldn’t do something, do it right away!
2. If you see a great opportunity like applying for a grant or show, always apply, even if you think you won’t get it, if you don’t put yourself in the running how would you ever know.
3. When you get rejections it’s really annoying but don’t ever let it put you off.
4. Don’t put work online straight away. Remember it’s there forever! Let it sit for a while. There are so many images I wish I could erase!
5. When you’re ready, instagram is so huge for artists at the moment. So many artists have really beautiful layouts that represent their work and it’s really easy to get a quick overview of an artist.
6. Concentrate on the work! I know this sounds ridiculous but too many people, myself included, obsess over the other stuff like getting a show or money etc. But give yourself time to make an amazing body of work first that you feel truly represents you. Then pimp it to high heaven.
7. That leads me to my last point, be yourself! I personally have often tried to come across as a different sort of artist than what I am. I must say my only success has been when I have been totally true to myself and when I’ve applied to grants and awards I have chosen the work that best represents my work and me. It always comes good!

Could you name your top five artists – and explain why they impress you?

1. Frida Kahlo. No words needed!
2. Barbara Kruger. So much power. This is what art is really about!
3. Sarah Lucas. I just love the attitude in her work and playing with what it means to be a woman, she is a huge inspiration to me.
4. Banksy. I know what you’re thinking. But I love what he does. He’s so much cleverer than what he gets credit for. You just have to watch ‘Exit through the gift shop’ to know he’s a genius and speaks to a generation.
5. David Shrigley. He really cracks me up.

How would you define creativity?

I think freedom and self expression.

In an internationalist, interconnected world, ideas and creativity are constantly being flung across community threads, internet chatrooms and forums, and social media sites (among many others). With so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard?

I think it can be hard to get seen but I think if you bring something original and honest to the table it stands out. And you can use these platforms to your advantage!

What’s next in terms of future projects?

I have a new solo exhibition coming up about freedom of speech at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham and a performance at the Tate, I am really excited about it. Dates will be revealed on my website soon!

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