The Sugary Sculptures of SVA Alumnus Maayan Zilberman
May 7, 2019
by Vanessa Machir
Artist and Sweet Saba founder Maayan Zilberman (BFA 2001 Fine Arts) has collaborated with some of the most desirable names in design and fashion: Art Basel Miami, Delpozo, the Whitney Museum of American Art and Versace (this last one for the Met Ball, no less). But her chosen medium isn’t quite what you'd expect. A high-concept, high-end candy maker, Zilberman sculpts with sugar.
Why sugar? After working in the lingerie business for many years, "I wanted to be making things with my hands," she says, but she had no studio space. So, inspired by childhood food experiments with her grandfather and her abiding love of candy, she turned to her kitchen.
Mastering the process, however, wasn’t easy. "I ended up learning how to do all of this on YouTube, watching videos over and over again." After she put her work on social media and started getting orders, Sweet Saba ("saba" is the Hebrew word for "grandfather") was established. Success soon followed: Her first pop-up was at Manhattan gallery space Fort Gansevoort in 2015; a week later, she was filling an order for W magazine's Golden Globes after-party. Her candy is now sold at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. One of her latest collaborations is with nail-polish company Orly. Together, they've created Sweet Saba Red, a shade inspired by Zilberman's own signature crimson nails.
At first, Zilberman focused on re-creating items that had sentimental value for her, like wristwatches and cassette tapes. "This ephemeral thing would melt away or someone would eat it, and it would become a part of you," she says. Her work aims for hyper-realism. Crystals, pickles, lipsticks or, for the aforementioned Versace project, gold jewelry—if it exists, it's likely Zilberman can fashion a sugar version. But what you see isn't always what you get; she has also made donut-flavored pizzas and popcorn-flavored flowers. "The duality is funny to me."
But no matter where her work takes her, she stays true to why she started Sweet Saba. "I have to constantly remind myself of how I want the business to make me feel."
A version of this article appears in the spring 2019 Visual Arts Journal.