Artist Sarah Maple is not prosaic. As a multi-disciplinary artist, her sarcastic hyperbolized works are multifaceted, versatile, and controversial. From stand-up comedies, paintings, sculptures, mixed media and more, her works intertwine and connect within their comedic niche, being unequivocally and distinguishably Maple’s. Her newest venture, Sarah Maple’s Nazi Sexy Shark Show, is in front of a camera, this time for TV. Set in a vibrant and cutting edge Crawley, Sarah Maple’s “Nazi Sexy Shark Show” is a ground breaking series of six films that fuse video art with sit-com conventions.
The title arbitrarily takes its name from the words with the highest ‘click through’ appeal and surprises viewers at every turn as it sinks its teeth into the contemporary art landscape taking aim at the experience of being a ‘female’ artist, dealing with the press, the whims of celebrity collectors, and the awkwardness of putting it all out there as performance art.
The films are firmly semi-autobiographical, lending the series a heightened reality that draws influence from sitcoms like Extras and Curb Your Enthusiasm as well as seminal artists such as Cindy Sherman and Sarah Lucas. The series features real-life collectors and art-world colleagues such as David Tennant, Sonia Boyce, Will Gompertz, Nikki Bedi and curator Kate Bryan. With a concurrent show of her work at Jealous Gallery in Shoreditch providing viewers a chance to see the films in a real-life art installation context these films provide a meta experience, blurring the line between fiction and reality. Featured actors include Eloise Dixon, Grace Saif, star of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and Natasha Vasadani, of the News Revue podcast.
On October 14th at 11 pm the series aired on Sky Arts (Freeview Channel 11) in its entirety, back to back, as one 65 minute feature. After that, each episode will be available to watch via Sky’s ‘Sky TV on Demand’ catchup service, making video art available to all to view from home. To learn more about Maple’s new exciting TV project, we talked to the artist about her inspiration and inclination to create art for television. Check out the full interview below.
What inspired your concept for the sitcom/video art series “Sarah Maple’s Nazi Sexy Shark Show”?
I’ve always been massively inspired by comedies, I’ve always loved how you can get a powerful point across through humour, which is why a lot of my political work is funny and satirical. I had the idea of a ‘video art sitcom’, a bit like ‘Curb your enthusiasm’ where it’s that really fine line between fiction and reality. I really wanted to talk about my experience of being a ‘female’ artist and a minority and all the things that come with that – all the joy and pain that comes with being an artist and how hard it can be to navigate at times! Its very meta as the whole video series is about me preparing for an exhibition that actually happens in real life. The videos are then exhibited in the show and appear on Sky Arts channel.
Tell us about the title – how did you come up “Nazi Sexy Shark Show” with that and why?
Well when I started talking about the video art piece I had been told by some TV people that the things that get the most clicks have ‘Nazi’, ‘sex’ or ‘shark’ in the title. So I thought this could be a really interesting comment about the world we’re living in, about algorithms, our attention spans – the most important thing being the most ‘clickable’ content. Especially now it seems like everyone is fighting to be seen. So I actually wrote this into the ‘sitcom’. I have this manager Bruce Bechdel (who was actually played by a 13 year old boy – all the art world male characters in positions of power are played by children!) and he convinces me to call the tv show we’re in and the exhibition ‘Sarah Maple’s Nazi Sexy Shark Show’.
How does your real life persona differ from the artist Sarah Maple we see on the series?
It’s definitely a heightened version of myself. In the series I get into arguments and confront people – if it was more like real life it would be very boring as I am so bad at confronting anyone about anything haha! In a way it allowed me to be the version of myself I wish I was!
What insight do you hope to bring with the new series / exhibit?
There are so many things I wanted to say and so many things left to say! It’s very autobiographical about the experiences of being a muslim woman in the arts but even though that may seem niche, I think it can relate to anyone who is trying their hardest to achieve success in their field. Anything worth doing is hard but it’s brilliant when it pays off.
How did you cast the project and put together the production – did you do most of the ground work or your producers?
It was a very collaborative process, I’ve not done anything on this scale before so I worked with director Michelle Tofi and producers Louise Morton-Murray and Eddie Morgan to cast and put everything together. Some people we had relationships with so they felt like a natural fit, like David Tennant. He and his wife actually own a piece of my work in real life so I had this idea about an episode on ownership. In the episode, I want to print a copy of a photography piece he owns for the exhibition but he refuses and we have an argument as we both feel we have the right over the image. That was so fun to film and David was hilarious! We improvised some of it and I think it actually does ask some important questions for artists about what happens to their work after they’ve sold it.
Humor is an important component of your work – tell us about your mix of art and satire? Do you like to poke fun at the art world?
I’ve always loved poking fun at the art world, it’s like a compulsion! I was fortunate to win a prize from the Saatchi Gallery the year I graduated so I was immediately thrust into this world with no clue what I was doing. A lot of the ‘sitcom’ is about that and how I dealt with it. The art world is hilarious, there are so many genuine bizarre things I’ve experienced in this field that no one would believe actually happened. I could have made it a lot longer as there’s so much to unpack. I’m surprised an art comedy hasn’t been done before in this way but I think it’s actually hard to mix the two, it’s almost a bit of a taboo. And I actually base a whole episode on whether the films are actually comedy or art and why is it important to distinguish between the two. It becomes very meta!
So far how has it been received in the UK in the midst of the pandemic? Has that affected the project at all?
The films debuted in the exhibition at Jealous Gallery in London and then on Sky Arts. So you could watch them in the show or from home. I was so happy we could make video art available for everyone to watch from home during this time. We were pretty fortunate to get the exhibition open before more restrictions set in just recently but this was actually meant to happen months ago. We started filming in Feb, then stopped for lockdown, then got everything finished in August. It was crazy as it was the first non-fiction piece to be made by Sky after the pandemic so there were so many restrictions in place and we had to change the scripts and rework everything to make it fit with social distancing. But I find sometimes restrictions can make you even more creative and I’m really pleased how it worked out and we managed to stay safe.
Tell us about some of the artwork featured in the exhibition – what was the inspiration behind the celebrity self portraits? Who all did you shoot with for those?
I featured a brand new series called ‘Portraits With Fans’ where I created pictures of myself meeting very famous male artists – but instead of me being excited to meet them, they’re excited to meet me! I’ve done some with Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry, Matthew Barney, The Chapman Brothers, Anish Kapoor and many more. I wanted to subvert the power-play in the art world. It still seems very white and male, I wanted to turn it round and point the light at the women! We’re still very behind in museum collections, gallery representation and auction sales, I know it seems like we’re doing better but we’re far from equal with the chaps. I’ve also created some ‘cut out’ collages which are layered silhouettes of women and a series called ‘Stop All The Clocks’, where I replace women’s heads with vintage clocks. I also made a large painting called ‘Self Portrait with Preceptor’ about the relationship with my family, religion and art practice.
What can we look forward to next from you?
I have a couple of really exciting things coming up next year but I can’t say yet! I’ll hopefully be able to reveal soon!