Artist Sarah Maple Takes On Page 3

Artist Sarah Maple Takes On Page 3

Artist Sarah Maple talks to Mookychick about slipping 1,000 self portraits of herself with fake breasts into the pages of The Sun.

‘Sarah, 24, From Sussex’ – self-portrait, Sarah Maple.

Only six years out of art school, Sarah Maple has already established herself as something of a figurehead for British female artists. She is frequently compared to other female greats such as Tracey Emin and Frida Kahlo, and rightly so. Her emphatic in-yer-face style tackles issues of feminism and race head-on, whether that involves nudity, performance art, or, alternatively, dressing up as a Disney Princess for the cause. Much of her feminist work has dealt with the topic of women as an object and more specifically, The Sun’s Page 3. Her recent work has been no exception.

Sarah Maple staging a guerilla protest against The Sun’s page three on its 40th anniversary, 17 Nov 2009.

Maple played a pivotal role in UK Feminista’s ‘Summer School’ that ran this August, involving campaigning, consciousness-raising and staging a host of female speakers. Mookychick sits down with Maple to discuss her involvement with the ‘Summer School’ and the explosive work she did there involving Page 3.

MC: Tell us a little about your recent Feminista ‘Summer School’ workshop…

SM: I had a workshop where I asked people to make their own Page 3’s which they would then slip into their local newspaper, just like in my performance a few years ago (I did this with 1,000 copies of myself with fake breasts). Initially I wanted them to depict an inspiring woman, then I realised it could be anything, anything to make a Sun reader think, to make them question why we still have this and why we seem to see it as a ‘British institution’ now. Some of the participants simply had text like ‘Bubbies are not news’. It was so great, especially the feedback from ladies who had put it in the paper. It was a very empowering thing to do.

How you perceive Page 3 to be a problem?

People say there are bigger problems like pornography on the internet, etc. But I don’t agree because I think it starts with small things like this that feed into our culture. It is not acceptable to have a naked woman on the third page of a national newspaper and I think that needs to be acknowledged.

This is something you started campaigning against a while ago. For example, we love your earlier work on the subject, such as ‘Sarah, 24, from Sussex’. How did your ideas develop?

I have always disliked it and it’s always made me feel uncomfortable. About 4 years ago when I made the ‘Sarah, 24, from Sussex’ piece, it was the 40th anniversary of page three and I couldn’t believe it. Women have come so far since then and this has still remained. So I made this piece where I posed as a page three girl but with big plastic breasts on. The fake breasts to me are as ludicrous as the notion of Page Three! It was very difficult to actually do this photograph because, at the same time, I didn’t want it to look as though I was insulting the girls themselves – in no way did I want to have a go at them.

I did a performance on the 40th anniversary of Page 3 where I printed off 1,000 editions of my version and then 30 volunteers went round London placing them into the paper. I wanted to do a protest but in an interesting and creative way. Back then I felt quite alone; not many people were talking about Page 3 or even feminism. It seems like because of twitter and facebook a feminist movement has really grown, like we’re going through a really exciting fourth wave that’s only really shown itself over the past year or so.

This must be a big influence on you creatively. Will your next set of work be engaged with these ideas?

I believe so, because I’m very interested in the ‘small’ things people think don’t matter. (My piece ‘Votes for Women’ was based on this after Newsnight was criticised for discussing the vajazzing phenomenon.)

‘Votes for Women’ – self-portrait, Sarah Maple.

I really think these ‘small’ things trickle down and influence how we view gender and in turn affects how women are treated. There is a reason why we have only had one female prime minister, the majority of CEOs are men, women earn less than men, fewer books are published by women… the list goes on and on. People think Page 3 doesn’t matter, but it is the most widely-read newspaper in this country. All the pictures are of women in their underwear and the pictures of men are success stories, football managers, business people. The clear message is that men are to take on the world, women are to be looked at. As John Berger said, “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”

There is so much momentum at the moment with the campaign against Page 3 with social media, #NoMorePageThree, etc playing a big part. Do you feel this is coming to a climax?

I think so. Dinsmore has to react; we’re very close to a climax I feel, especially with Ireland taking theirs down. They may change to a ‘glamorous’ shot, like a model or swimwear or something. To me that is not enough, but it would be a start. I think it should be completely gone. On that day there will be feminist street parties! Haha!

The Sun is a particularly gender prejudiced newspaper anyway. Do you think their misrepresentation of women runs deeper than just Page 3?

The Sun is a misogynist paper, full of contradictions. Recently I saw someone had shared a Sun story online, a story slut-shaming someone, next to a picture of Sam from TOWIE in her bikini!

What is your take on women in the art world at the moment? Are there other current female artists you admire?

Yeah, there seem to be a lot of young women around my age making some really exciting work, like Juno Calypso and Meg Mosley. Love it! Obviously it is still a gender prejudiced environment, but it makes me fight back even more and make exactly the work I want to make laughing about it all (e.g. my piece ‘artist and a female artist’ or ‘I wish I had a stamen (that’s a euphemism)’).

‘An Artist and a Female Artist’ – Sarah Maple.

Do you think art has a big part to play in the future of feminism?

I think so, there is some amazing feminist art from the past so I don’t see why it should be any different. There’s still so much material! Plus now there are even more ways for it to be seen and to reach people. So much can be done online before it hits the gallery wall.

My favourite quote of yours is ‘The opposite of a feminist is an arsehole’. Could you leave our feminist mooks with some more words of wisdom?

I love ‘Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction’ from Faithless!

Learn more about Sarah Maple and her brilliant work at her official website.

‘Bananarama’ by Sarah Maple