Sarah Maple: ‘The Opposite of a Feminist’ 20 November 2021 – 13 February 2022 GIANT, The Bobby’s Building The Square Bournemouth BH2 5LY
‘The Opposite of a Feminist’, a solo exhibition of paintings, photographs and films by seminal British artist Sarah Maple. Spanning over 15 years, these are some of the boldest feminist works the artist has ever created, brought together for the first time.
Dubbed “Saatchi-on-Sea” at its launch, GIANT now follows on from inaugural exhibition ‘Big Medicine,’ which featured controversial sculptures by The Chapman Brothers as well as significant works by Jim Lambie, Jeremy Deller and Gavin Turk.
Here, GIANT performs another brave move, with ’The Opposite of A Feminist’ taking a provocative look at the role of women in the contemporary art world, media and society, through the eyes of one of the naughtiest, wittiest and most reverent artists today – Sarah Maple.
Some of this work has had to be borrowed back from private collections and I am so looking forward to seeing everything in one place again, especially in this incredible space!
GIANT itself, a brand-new 15000 sq ft gallery in Bournemouth, occupies the entire second floor of a former Debenhams store, and fittingly the Maple exhibit assumes its position where, just a few months ago, women’s lingerie could be found.
Much of Maple’s inspiration originates from being raised as a Muslim with parents of mixed religious and cultural backgrounds. Often using herself as a conduit to challenge stereotypes and normative behaviour, Maple is adept at confronting complex issues that we often consider- wit, irony and startling honesty. However, in this exhibition, we centre exclusively on the potent feminist thread within her broader body of work.
Bournemouth’s visual arts scene has been criticised as somewhat of a ‘cultural desert despite its vibrant tech scene (second only to Silicon Valley), its world-renowned orchestra, seven miles of golden sandy beaches, and a dynamic arts university.
All that has changed since British artist Stuart Semple founded GIANT over the summer. GIANT’s first blockbuster exhibitions attracted more visitors than several major London galleries, including Dulwich Picture Gallery, South London Gallery and Camden Arts Centre. The Times declared the gallery as ‘Saatchi on Sea’ and the town itself as ‘Bournemouth 2.0’ by The Telegraph.
While it demonstrated the point for decentralization, the ability for post-covid high streets to adapt and the power of the arts to re-invigorate communities, it did not come without a debate. Conservative MP Tobias Elwood said a series of new bronze sculptures based on suicide vests by The Chapman Brothers as ‘Tasteless’ on Sky News, and the Daily Mail demanded the exhibition be cancelled.
It is likely with her outspoken work, direct wit and controversial subject matter that Sarah Maple’s exhibition is set to be just as divisive, if not more so. ‘The Opposite of A Feminist’ provokes assumptions, stereotypes and conventions.
The show important pieces, including Menstruate With Pride, a monumental self-portrait painting of Maple, blood-stained from a period whilst surrounded by colleagues. In Signs, Maple herself can be seen holding three placards reading “I wish I had a penis because then I’d fuck you, and steal your job” – a work which helped win her the Saatchi New Sensations prize while still a student.
More current works such as 2020’s ‘Sexy Nazi Shark Show’, a sitcom as video art made for Sky Arts (exhibited in its entirety for the first time), show the breadth of Maple’s sense of humour and creative provocation.
Meanwhile, photographic works like her Disney Princess series question notions of archetypal storytelling by recasting well known Disney characters as politicians, scientists and football managers. The central pieces in the show, Anti Rape Cloak and Freedom of Speech, are perhaps the most confrontational.
In the latter, a video work in which the artist directly addresses the camera, she begins a feminist polemic only to be slapped repeatedly to the point of tears, silenced by the sting of violence.