Maltese Folklore, Sansuna The Giantess and the Battle Against Censorship: The Artistic Inspirations of Eden Chapman-Maurice

By Liv Collins

On a humid afternoon towards the end of June, writer Liv Collins sat down with the emerging visual artist, Eden Chapman-Maurice. With an interdisciplinary practice spanning ceramics, painting and installation, Eden playfully disrupts the boundaries separating craft, fine art and mythology. Eden opens up about her newfound appreciation of her Maltese roots, her feminist thinkingand her infatuation with a giantess named Sansuna 

What are you working on at the moment? 

It’s mainly Malta related, because I’m half-Maltese. But it was something I really paid no interest in until lockdown, and I suddenly started thinking about it properly. And I was like, oh wait! I’m actually connected to this really interesting part of the Mediterranean, that I know nothing about. I started reading online about Malta because I’d never been, I had just heard about it from family. I started looking up folklore and myths and legends, because I’ve always loved folklore, and also being half-Welsh, I grew up listening to those stories and I was like oh, I wonder if there’s an equivalent in Malta. And there was, which is where I found the story of Sansuna, the giantess, who is my Muse. She’s the bedrock of my practice – the story goes, that this giantess Sansuna, built the temples across Malta and Gozo about 6,000 years ago. And it varies a lot from there. But the stories that I found based on her, portrayed her in a really negative way of just being this fat, big, dumb woman who is carrying around bricks for no reason, because nobody could seem to understand the reason other than oh, she has a kid, so she must be building a house for a kid, because that’s all a woman would ever do. I wanted to add my own bit to this story. Because part of the thing with folklore and mythology is each century or each generation adds their own little layer to it, or retells it in another way. This is why there are so many variations. In my head – this is my variation on this story, and on Maltese history. 

How much does feminism inspire your work?  

I grew up with a mum who was very vocal and feminist, and I’ve always had that in the back of my head with different projects that I’m doing. I think when I started researching Sansuna and Maltese folklore, feminism became way more of a push behind the artwork I was making. Before that, it was something I cared about but it wasn’t really a reason to make artwork. But when I found this myth, I realised I really want to re-depict the way that this woman is told and treated.

Since then, I’ve found more Maltese folklore and stories, and I’m sad to say that in my opinion they’re all pretty sexist. It’s the way women’s bodies are treated, particularly larger women. This negative concept – that if you’re large, you’re probably dumb as well, and you’re probably insecure and weird because a man can’t understand the reason you’re doing things. And I quite like the idea that a man doesn’t need to understand what Sansuna’s doing, or rather, nobody needs to understand what she’s doing. She’s building these incredible structures, for her own reasons.

I’ve seen that on Instagram; you’ve had a problem with your paintings and the censoring of women’s bodies. What is your relationship like with social media? 

It’s a complicated thing, because I think my main drive to post on social media is out of desperation. I need some way of getting my work out there. I apply for so many things, and get rejected for so many things, and the only way that I have control over other people seeing my work, is in a social media setting. But it is really frustrating when things get taken down, because it is largely the paintings, weirdly. Even though in my ceramics there are still tits, there are still vaginas. But it’s the paintings Instagram seem to have an issue with, even though in the guidelines to these social media platforms – it says if it’s a painting or an artistic interpretation of a body, then it’s fine. Yet, they can’t seem to differentiate between what I paint and real bodies, even though they’re blue. So it is frustrating, because I feel like the nakedness of these bodies is a necessity for what I’m doing. And it’s not in an explicit way. It’s not in a sexual way.  

That’s a really interesting point, of just having a naked body of a woman, and Instagram being like it’s sexual. It’s like hang on, even if it is, whatever! But your paintings aren’t inherently sexual? 

No, it is infuriating. And more power to the people that do want to create sexual stuff, 100%. There should be a place for that. Even my paintings with just the torso up get banned. It’s not even the full vulval ones. 

So going forward for the next few months, do you have any ideas of things you want to do, places you want to go, or things you want to discover? 

I’ve found some other Maltese stories that are sexist and actually pretty racist. I’m thinking about ways of reworking them. At the moment, I am still really infatuated with Sansuna. I’ve had a few studio crits recently and have been inviting people into my studio and having a few more conversations, which has been really nice. And coming from those, I’m thinking a lot more broadly about what her world would have been like.

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