Culture, religion, and sexuality are frequent topics of Sarah Maple’s comedically intellectual artwork. Using provocative images and a whole lot of snark, Maple — who has been called “the heir to Tracey Emin’s throne” — aims to spark conversations through controversy. Whether she’s making fun of pop feminists, or jihadis doesn’t matter. She just wants people to stop being so reactionary and actually (gasp!) think about why her work is so unsettling.
Flavorpill: Much of your work is quite piquant. Is your use of humor intended to make your biting commentary more palatable?
Sarah Maple: I just had to Google the word “piquant”. I had no idea what it meant. I’m gonna try and drop it into conversation now. (Laughs) I like to be funny and silly. And I don’t want to make work that doesn’t mean anything because that isn’t art to me. I think things are great when you’re laughing…or if you’re not sure you should be laughing. I really love a witty and clever joke that really makes a point. Although you said my work is in-your-face, there are subtitles also.
FP: You’ve gotten quite a bit of attention from feminist-oriented media, even though some of your work pokes fun at feminists. Why do you think feminists are attracted to what you do?
SM: I didn’t mean to poke fun at feminists. I’m shitting on post-feminism. I am a huge feminist, and I applaud feminism. I saw that article in Bitch and I was very flattered.
FP: Your work grapples with identity. What is interesting to you about that?
SM: I think because it is all something we can identify with. We all go through that type of self-exploration in our own ways and in different times in our lives. It’s such an interesting subject. I’ve done a lot of traveling and seen how important it is to people. Not only that, but we are all fascinated by other people’s identities.
FP: Why do you tend to make yourself the canvas for your own art?
SM: Because I’m the only person who really gets what I want to get across in a picture. That thing can sometimes only be told in a look in the eye that I can’t describe in words… try explaining that to a model! It also seems very natural for me to use myself because the work comes from and means so much to me.
FP: Other than your own background, what else influences your work?
SM: Things people say, magazines, page three girls, words, relationships, books, Jeremy Kyle, comedy.
FP: What is the most rewarding part of your work?
SM: When I see it all finished. I get that buzz that I did something great, and I feel so excited. I have that feeling when I’ve baked a good cake also.
FP: The most frustrating?
SM: It’s only frustrating when something doesn’t turn out how I planned, or something isn’t quite right and I can’t figure out what it is.
FP: What is one thing you love that would surprise fans of your work?
SM: Errrmmmm. I’m a bit obsessive about the Tudors (Anne Boleyn in particular, she’s my feminist idol), property (my other ambition is being an estate agent), dinosaurs, and petrol prices. What I’m really trying to say is I’m a geek — and not a cool retro one either.