Sarah Maple’s God is a Feminist is an exploration of identity, feminism and religion. Her diverse and engaging practice spans video and painting. From 28 February until 15 April Maple’s work appears at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast. Aesthetica speaks to Maple about her controversial work and her thoughts on contemporary feminism.
A: God is a Feminist is quite a provocative title, where did the idea come from?
SM: At the time I made this it was after I had made a lot of work about my Islamic identity. Many people interpreted my work as me commenting on oppressed Muslim women being forced into wearing the hijab or Burka. I wasn’t saying this at all. I wanted to challenge the perception of the Muslim woman as the victim, or even in general. At the time there was a lot of negativity about Muslims in the media. In this work I was looking at how in the “west” there is an obsession with physical appearance and with women being sexually attractive in a very limited and narrow way. I was looking at how this may be seen as a form of oppression and that there may be a freedom in covering up. It was also at a time on reflecting on my own religious beliefs and “faith”. In my opinion,the aim of religion is ultimately trying to make us better people and if we were better people then we may live in a more equal society. I was thinking about this and the statement “God is a Feminist” came to me. I then made a work to fit with this. I know this is a very contentious thing to say for many people. I told this to an atheist feminist friend who reacted very negatively and then I knew the piece was a success!
A: You use a variety of artistic forms, painting and video for example, why is this? Do you find different forms can express different meanings?
SM: Absolutely, I have the idea, then I choose the media of which to express this in the best way. It’s all about communicating with the audience in the best way possible. I think the choice of media can completely change impact or meaning. I don’t always get it right and have regrets later!
A: What do you think it means to be a feminist in 2014?
SM: It’s a really exciting time. I went to a talk in NY where a feminist from the 1970s was talking, she said she felt sorry for feminists today because we have nothing left to fight for. I thought this was such an odd and out of touch thing to say because there is still so much work to do. The problem we have is that many people think feminism is over and we should just shut up and get over it. Many feminists get shouted down. You only have to look at the case with Caroline Cirado Perez to see there is still a lot of misogyny around from men and women. The great thing about social media is that we have all found each other and the movement seems really exciting. Lots of grassroots campaigns have started and it is so easy to get involved now.
A: You deal with identity, feminism and religion in your work. What do you want audiences to take from the pieces?
SM: It depends as each piece is so different. I want to challenge people and make them think, give them food for thought that will stick with them in the weeks, months even years afterwards. Sometimes my work is about pointing out things that have become so normalised now that we hardly notice them. For example in my piece Lollypop Lollypop, I have taken an idea of a conventional pin up beauty and given her some underarm hair. I wanted to make people uncomfortable, make them think again and question why women’s underarm hair is really so repulsive.
A: What do you have planned for the future?
SM: I am creating a new body of work at the moment. I am presently putting together a very elaborate performance piece that will push me to my very limits but in art I think you have to keep testing yourself and taking your work and commitment to the next level. I am very excited about it!
1. Fighting Fire with Fire, image courtesy of Sarah Maple and Golden Thread Gallery.