British artist Sarah Maple uses irony, humor and bold imagery to fight sexism, and her latest work targets victim blaming – the cultural practice of finding fault with the victims of rape and sexual assault.
Maple tells PEOPLE she created her anti-rape cloak to encourage others to rethink their views about rape and abuse. “No one is ever asking for it, ever, no matter what they are wearing, where they are or if they accepted a drink from someone,” says Maple.
The artist, 30, says the idea for the cloak came to her during a summer residency in London, where she was given the task of creating an “object of nuisance.”
“[The project] derived from the Suffragettes and how people patronizingly referred to their protests as a ‘nuisance,’ which is still remarkably close to the attitude towards feminism today,” Maple says.
“I was reading Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates at the time, and victim blaming was on my mind a lot. I was feeling extremely infuriated at the idea that women are somehow to blame for assault and should do all they can to protect themselves. It’s so interesting to me how the blame is so focused on the victim.”
“After thinking a great deal on this topic, I came up with the idea of creating this tongue-in-cheek ironic garment which women could wear that completely covered us from head to foot, as if somehow, being covered up, we are instantly no longer ‘asking for it,’ as if we are now completely protected from the potential of being assaulted in any time or place,” she says.
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Maple also points out the double standard women face:
“It’s very odd that women are encouraged to be sexy, we are told constantly by the media that our sexiness dictates our value, but then if we dress sexily we deserve to be raped. It’s a contradiction I can’t get my head around. It is also ridiculous to think that a bit of female flesh on view turns men into savages who must instantly have sex! It’s insulting for men too.”
At first the artwork was only the garment, she says, but then she decided the cloak needed to be photographed out in the world. She documented herself wearing it in various places like the Mohave Desert, Las Vegas and the New York City subway.
“Each location puts a different meaning onto the cloak,” she says. “I also took a picture in a bedroom, which for me is the saddest image.”
“I really wanted to make empowering images of the cloak, in a way of sort of rebelling against the ridiculousness of victim blaming.”