British Artist Sarah Maple Gets In-Your-Face Political With New Exhibit ‘Thoughts & Prayers’

“Thoughts and Prayers” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019

In the current era we live in, it’s ALWAYS a good time to get political, and with the rise of Trumpism and right-wing extremism in the United States as well as around the globe (looking at you Brazil for recently electing far-right president Jair Bolsonaro...) we are seeing more and more people raise their voice to take a stand against hate.

In the art world, there are a number of artists weaving their own creative narrative about politics and culture through their work, which allows us to look at situations with a fresh perspective. One such artist is the award-winning Sarah Maple, whose new exhibit ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ is opening stateside starting January 22 at Untitled Space NYC, just after the annual Women’s March being held on January 19 around the country.

Hailing from Britain, this will be the first solo exhibition of the artist in the United States. Sarah has become known for her thought-provoking artwork that fights against censorship while investigating themes of politics, violence, freedom, feminism, and the ironies of pop culture. Much of Maple’s inspiration originates from being raised Muslim, with parents of mixed religious and cultural backgrounds. Maple’s pro-feminist artwork fearlessly addresses socio-political taboos that are highly relevant to today’s divisive climate.  The exhibit is timed to follow the Women’s March which will be hitting the streets of America January 19th. 

“Human Trapped” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019

In a press release she says she chose the title for her exhibition due to the American gun obsession and the UK’s fascination with what is happening politically across the pond, and how it relates to their own political disruption.

“I see many parallels between the UK and the US, especially with Brexit and the Trump election. The gun debate is something especially intriguing to the British. The threat of terror is continually focused on and yet nothing is done about gun laws. When officials offer up “Thoughts And Prayers,” it appears hollow and insincere. I am interested in how a lack of action directly and/or indirectly inflicts suffering and potential violence on its citizens,” she said.

We spoke more in depth with Sarah about ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ as well as how she uses her work to discuss feminism, identity, gender, sexuality and more.

“Inaction is a Weapon of Mass Destruction” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019

The title “Thoughts and Prayers” is a phrase very familiar to Americans regarding the gun debate. From a British perspective, why did you choose this as your title and what does it mean to you?

‘Thoughts And Prayers’ is strongly associated with the gun debate in Britain too. Over here we obsess over American politics (even more so with Trump) and the gun thing is something we just don’t get. When someone in a position of power comes out and says their ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ are with victims and families, it just sounds so hollow and insincere when nothing is done and they are well aware nothing will be done. But you see this in different ways all over the world.

Then you think about the demonizing of immigrants as ‘murderers and rapists’ by Trump….playing on the fear of the ‘other’ and what that’s done in recent years is so scary. For me the ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ thing becomes so much bigger, for me it symbolizes a complete lack of action from our elected people all over the world. In my piece ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ I created a text print and took it to a shooting range. I then hung it up and shot the hell out of it! The resulting work is ‘Thoughts And Prayers’ prints covered in bullet holes.

“This is My Penis” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019

You explore political themes such as identity, immigration and gender through your work, stemming from areas in your own life. How has art become a conduit to have important conversations about these topics?

I am absolutely terrible at expressing myself in my everyday life! Art gives me the platform to do that. When I started getting more of a following I realized I could use that somehow to say the things I feel need to be said. With something like gender politics, I think all that ‘men are from mars women are from venus’ stuff is so ingrained in our culture that it’s hard to even notice it when it’s happening. I like to use art to point that out. Sometimes I am just pointing out the blatantly obvious in a humorous way but it makes people think again. Like my piece ‘The opposite to a feminist is an asshole’. People often take offense to that but I am using that provocation to actually make you think about what feminism is…which is gender equality. And if you’re against that then yes you are an asshole.

What do you hope American audiences will take away from this exhibit?

I hope they feel empowered by the work! I see a lot of parallels in the US and UK at the moment so I am really intrigued how people will react, especially as some of my humor is very British. Some of the power in it is that sometimes you don’t know if I am joking or not.

“Subway Cloak” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019

“Thoughts and Prayers” will be released around the same time as the 2019 Women’s March. Why is this significant to your work?

When I first started working (about 10 years ago) feminism really wasn’t being talked about at all. This was one of the reasons why I made the ‘Opposite to a feminist’ work. I did a charity art auction for a feminist charity in 2010 and literally we could not get a single company to associate with us. Things have really changed since then! And I think that’s because Women have started speaking out more, holding marches, not feeling as scared to speak out. There’s now a supportive network out there. I think collectively we have made this movement happen and that’s why I love it when we have big events like the Women’s march, because even though we still have a long way to go, it shows how far we’ve come.

With a lot of political similarities between the UK and the USA right now with Brexit and Trump how do you hope your work will impact global audiences?

I think there is a lot of interest in these subjects because people are fascinated by Trump and Brexit. But probably because other countries are wondering what the hell we are doing! We are living in such a strange time and it impacts everyone. I went to Brussels after the Brexit vote and the locals were like ‘What the hell has the UK done?’. We are a small country but I think the butterfly effect will be huge.

“In Time” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019

Can you tell us how art can be a powerful way to express feminism and ideas relating to gender equality?

We live in such a visual culture and so saturated with imagery. I think with art we can play on this to question gender roles. I always use a lot of humor in my work which I think is so important to get a message across, especially when there’s this idea that feminists are humorless! I think artists shouldn’t be afraid to be provocative because the things that make you the most uncomfortable have the biggest impact. One of the pieces in the show is my ‘Anti Rape Cloak’ which is a garment that covers you from head to foot.

It’s an ironic statement about the victim blaming culture we live in, that somehow women are ‘asking for it’. The Muslim world is criticized for asking women to cover up but if you think about it, those attitudes are exactly the same in western culture when it comes to rape. The piece is uncomfortable but it’s all about highlighting the ridiculousness of how these blame culture attitudes are embedded in our society and will take a lot of time to change.

‘Thoughts and Prayers’ will be on display at Untitled Space NYC from January 22 – February 3. For more details, visit the website.

“Go Home” Artwork by Sarah Maple, “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” Solo Exhibition, The Untitled Space, January 2019

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