SAR A H MaPLE
The new censorship isn’t an authoritarian one, it isn’t about restriction or bans or the art of gagging. It’s about flooding your brain with a ridiculous amount of irrelevant information and comments and memes until you’re unable to focus anymore on the things that really matter. Civil disobedience these days means to not perform 24/7 via Instagram. Moral courage is to not let yourself be silenced by bigotry and stupidity on Facebook. It’s frontier law all over again, which should be a bit weird and confusing, yet it’s perfectly acceptable and normal to the greatest possible extent these days.
Celebrated British artist Sarah Maples certainly is no stranger to challenging your beliefs about society, gender roles, religion, Internet culture, the art circuit, and whatnot - she smoked in a hijab, got beaten live on tape, transferred Disney-princesses into the academic world, and is pro-orgasm while wearing a burqa. What usually would be considered as being downright smart and deliciously provocative immediately got incredibly scandalized because Maple’s not only pro-feminist but of mixed Islamic background - up to the point where people actually send her death threats and threw bricks through her window. Hardly better proof that she’s not only pushing the exactly right buttons, but a proper showcase of intolerance and persecutions not only being accidents but deeply rooted in our current climate of narrow-mindedness. At the moment she’s basically working non-stop on two major projects that will be revealed by spring next year - nevertheless she found the time to answer a few questions for Lodown in early September.
Sarah, were you always flirting with the idea of executing your vision through many different forms of media, or was that something which developed as you got more confident with what you want to put on display? ▶ I always want to push myself and try new things. For me the most important part is the concept itself, then I choose the best media to express that idea. It’s all about delivering the message in the best possible way, really.
When you work on a new series, is preparing for it a rather time-consuming process or does a lot happen during the actual work in progress... you know, like a creative chain reaction, where the first finished piece opens the doors for the next ones to follow? ▶ It’s a bit of both, I’d say! I love when I get in a creative flow... then the pieces kind of tumble out. I keep a list of ideas that I am constantly adding to, then I leave them for a couple of weeks and see which ones stick. I usually have the idea first, then make the work. I’m not the kind of person who works spontaneously... I wish I was more like that though! More recently, I’ve been experimenting with trying to play and allow mistakes to happen, which sometimes form the best ideas. This is where collage is brilliant.
You’ve never shied away from being explicitly outspoken about a society that’s clearly off the rails. Through the years have you experienced the hateful voices getting louder, now that it’s seemingly acceptable for a weird kind of frontier law to rule social media? ▶ It’s become more acceptable to say unacceptable things. It’s like Trump and Brexit have legitimized racism. Especially the things people say about Muslims, it’s like we’ve regressed as a human race. It’s actually heartbreaking. Mind you, I’ve just watched that documentary “The Great Hack” on Netflix, which I really recommend. It made me rethink all those voices on social media, and how legitimate they really are... I won’t say too much but everyone needs to see this documentary!
At one point you were even receiving death threats, which is so incredibly shocking and absurd and terrifying beyond belief. Is it possible to deal with this without considering compromising your own work? ▶ At the time it was incredibly scary because it was before social media became the new currency... and so people took the time to throw bricks through your window and actually write a letter! That was a while ago but to be honest, those scars stay with you. I will always try and push boundaries but now I’m always aware what happens when something goes wrong. I learned a lot. That happened in 2008 and since then the world has changed so radically... I’m imagining how people will react before I’ve even made anything. However, people can be cruel but they can also be incredibly nice and supportive! You must not forget the good bits, too.
The art scene, religion, gender, traditional roles, identity, politics - you clearly love to hold the mirror up to society. As much as our fucked-up times offer a great breeding ground for artists, isn’t it on the other hand incredibly frustrating - and overall exhausting - that it still is a compelling necessity to have to fight the good fight in 2019? ▶ Yes, exactly! It’s so frustrating! In terms of making work... I’ve found it’s almost paralyzed me in many ways. I have to respond to this because it’s so important, but it’s so nuanced and things are changing so rapidly. I think it’s only now I’m starting to get my head around it all. Right now, at this point in time, Britain is hanging in the balance. We have absolutely no idea what is happening and what is going to happen! Maybe this is something that needs time and distance, then we can look back and analyze what the hell happened. It’s quite similar in a way with feminism... when I first started working, things were very different, you were allowed to say a lot more. There’s a lot of feminism ‘light’ these days, if you get me. Being a feminist isn’t easy, it’s tough, and there’s still a lot to fight for. If anything, these past few years have shown us that the fight for equality is never done. It’s a constant work in progress, a constant battle to keep fighting, we can always slip back!
Did you experience that the local climate is getting a lot rougher and narrow-minded through Brexit and Johnson’s delusions of grandeur? ▶ I’m not sure if it’s narrow-minded... but naivety definitely is at an all time high. We have this hangover from the Empire, we think we deserve some sort of special treatment, and it’s actually more depressing when you hear comedians commentating from abroad talking about Brexit. You see how ridiculous we look right now. It’s actually really scary thinking about the future of Britain. Can someone wake me up when it’s all over?