Death threats and a hammer attack on the Westbourne Grove gallery showcasing her work may have left Sarah Maple "rattled" - but the young artist says she will not be bullied into self-censorship by disgruntled sections of the Muslim community.


Maple, a mixed-race Muslim frequently hailed as the next big thing on the British modern art scene, has come under fire for causing offence with a series of satirical canvasses.


Last week, the paintings, which portray emblems of Islam such as the hijab in 'haram' or prohibited contexts, prompted a furious reaction - including an emailed death threat directed at the artist and her family.


Then last Tuesday, a masked raider attempted to smash his way into the gallery with a hammer in an early-morning attack. Police are investigating the incident and are treating the death threats seriously. Security near the gallery has also been raised.


Muslim community leaders have vigorously condemned the violent response to the exhibition, but bad feelings remain over what one respected North Kensington Islamic leader  calls an "insult in the name of art".

Maple, 23, refutes the claim - made by, among others, Dr Abdulkarim Khalil, of the Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre in Acklam Road - that she set out to deliberately offend, insisting she stumbled into this latest row over freedom of expression.


"It sounds naive but didn't realise the effect my pictures would have, I made them for myself as a tongue-in-cheek way to explore the tension I feel, being from a dual background and  how I juggle being a Muslim in the western world,  what that means and how those identities co-exist," she explains.


From some of the vitriolic response to her canvasses, such as one depicting a woman in a headscarf holding a pig, or a painting of a woman in a black Burkha with a small yellow badge reading 'I Love Orgasms' - it is clear that to some they do not, adds Maple.

In an emailed complaint to the SaLon, Dr Khalil says the gallery has a responsibility to avoid inflaming community tensions. "I urge you to take immediate action to remove these offensive exhibits," the letter says.


Defending his decision to host Maple's work gallery director Samir Ceric says he is "deeply saddened" by the violent response and did not organise the exhibition to stir controversy.


"Nothing in her work is offensive. Sarah makes art that reflects her experience as British Muslim. She's not telling muslims to agree with what she does, and of course people can email their thoughts to us, but there is a level of acceptability surpassed by death threats and attacks on the gallery."


Ceric, a Bosnian Muslim, says the gallery has received lots of support from Muslims who recognise the importance of the issues raised by Maple's works.


"There is a lot more to her work than just Islam, it is about identity, femininity, sexuality, celebrity and humour. She is a talented young artist and the extreme response is an attack on freedom of expression."


Maple says she is sorry for any hurt caused to Muslims, but is defiant in the face of calls to tackle faith and culture in a different way. She said: "It's been an intimidating time but if I back down they win. Yes I do want to get a reaction from my art, but not a violent one, or one where people say they are offended.

"I am sorry for upsetting people, that was never the intention, but I
will carry on making the art I think makes sense."

The show is scheduled to run until November 23.

Excerpts from a letter by Abdulkarim Khalil, Director, Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre dated October 28 - sent before revelations of death threats or the window attack.

"I find some of the photos and paintings at the Sarah Maple exhibition at your SaLon gallery very offensive and provocative.  Members of our community who saw these exhibits have conveyed to me their deep-felt concern and revulsion.  These exhibits appear to deliberately depict Muslim women, who wear Hijab and veil (Burkha) out of adherence to their faith, in a very offensive and derogatory manner. The theme appears to be 'insult in the name of art'. I am not surprised that an 'artist' chooses to express her hate for herself and for Islam through such insulting exhibits, but I am astonished that a respectable gallery in the heart of a multi-faith city of a sizable Muslim population chooses to aid in that. I speak for a large congregation in Westbourne Park; and I urge you to take immediate action to remove these offensive exhibits."


Abdulkarim Khalil, Director