20/02/2012 09:18 GMT | Updated 21/04/2012 06:12 BST

Humour is a Feminist Issue

As well as the comparisons with the usual bunch of female artists, Sarah Maple has also been compared to Russell Brand!

In this day and age, humour is sometimes deemed as frivolous and the art world has long accepted only 'serious' work as worthy of judgement.

Maple is a self-declared feminist whose work covers topics such as the role of women in Islam, menstrual blood, Britney Spears and vajazzling. Not necessarily in that order.

Her new show 'It's a Girl!' is explosive and confrontational but is also funny. I found it to have an immediacy that reminded me of early punk and a political agenda to match. Her work to me, has less in common with Emin and co. than she does with Poly Styrene, Ari Up and Siousxie.

Beverley Knowles, a curator with a history of working with female artists, curated 'It's a Girl!'. She recently sat down with me to discuss Sarah Maple's new work.


How did the collaboration come about?

Funnily enough I met Sarah in the loo at the ICA through a mutual acquaintance who's a performance artist. After that Sarah emailed me and asked if I'd curate a show for her. I already knew of her very particular brand of feminist rage so immediately said I'd be delighted.

There's a lot of very different work, video, photography, wallpaper, text and painting, how did you go about editing/curating?

I'm not a particularly rational person. I have to curate the same way I do everything else, which is by instinct. Sarah had a very clear idea of what she wanted for the show so in a way my main role was one of support. I'm rather anti this cult of the curator that seems to be happening at the moment. Ideally the curatorial hand should be almost invisible. It's about the work and foregrounding that to it's best advantage.

It must be quite annoying for her to constantly be compared to other female artists.

In fact she says her work is inspired by the world around her as much or more than by other artists. But it's the way of it. People feel more comfortable with an artist if they can pigeonhole her, particularly so with an artist who defies pigeonholing as Sarah does.


Like many other female artists from Frida Kahlo to Cindy Sherman, Sarah uses herself as a model. Why is this so prevalent?

I imagine it's something to do with using oneself as a mirror of the world in the same way that the world is a mirror of oneself. I'm a bit wary of making excessively reductive gender cliches about it but maybe its something to do with the fact that a lot of what one finds in the world is masculinized in a way that has become almost invisible to us over the centuries so, maybe, using oneself as the model is a way of avoiding engaging stuff that has already got a history and a history that is predominantly male. Sarah speaks about the fact that she wants to convey very particular emotions and she doesn't want those emotions to be mediated through speech between herself and somebody else. Using herself as model makes the message very direct. Nothing is lost.

You've worked with other artists who use humour in their work such as Margaret Harrison and The Girls, artists who use humour as a vehicle for more serious issues.

I suspect people are worried that if something's funny then it can't be serious. My own view is quite the opposite. The more serious something is it can afford to engage humour because its depth is genuine, not performed. Was it Wittgenstein who said that a serious philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes?


Sarah became 'famous' for work which was perceived to be criticizing women's role in Islam, yet there is none in this show.

Her last solo show focused on her Muslim upbringing and how that might have affected her relationship with the world. I don't know that she's necessarily finished investigating that but in recent years she became more involved with feminism in this country and has begun to ask questions of herself as to the ways in which being a woman in Britain has affected what she does and how she's perceived. I'm not sure I'd agree that she was criticizing women's role in Islam, I think it was more an investigation than a criticism although certainly a lot of people at the time took it as a criticism in the negative sense.


She seems a bit less critical of the art world than she used to be. Is she 'mellowing'?

Ha! No, she's definitely not mellowing. She's still got a lot to say about the art world. But we wanted the show to be sharp and focused rather than wafting across too many topics all at the same time. And the space is only as big as it is so we decided to produce something very targeted in it's message. Perhaps she'll return to her critique of the art world in a future show?

Look forward to it!

Images courtesy of the artist.

It's a Girl! continues at the Aubin Gallery until 9 March