Sweet Saba’s Sculptural Confections.

The evolution of Maayan Zilberman’s genre-bending creations.

On May 19, as a New Orleans drum track skittered over party-goers, a row of spotlights flanked the south wall of the atrium at A/D/O, where an assortment of candies encased in clear acrylic jewel boxes glowed atop stacked stainless steel benches. Shaped into watch faces, lipstick tubes, and memory sticks, the candies evoked the assortment of bewildering bric-a-brac one might find themselves confronted with in a forgotten drawer, but rendered in swirling candy colors. Produced by Sweet Saba, the avant-garde candy enterprise of Maayan Zilberman, the party favors’ disorienting combination of the banal and oneiric is only the latest chapter in Zilberman’s career, throughout which she has confounded any medium’s expected form and made a habit of turning attraction inside-out.

Zilberman’s confections have always colored outside of the lines. Trained as a sculptor at SUNY and SVA, she was a cofounder of the conceptual lingerie label Lake & Stars, where her approach was less concerned with achieving “sexy” than it was with being strategically ambiguous. As underwear, she admitted "it had to work." But, she said, "I wanted it most to be thought-provoking." She found that formal concerns—say, fit, fabric, production—became slightly less confining when she, slightly to her surprise, started making cakes. “They were mostly for art exhibits and weddings," she recalled. "The funny thing is that's the only kind of cooking I've ever done. I only ever viewed them as a sculptural challenge."

What unites Zilberman's approach to these widely-varied mediums, apart from a sculptor's eye for texture and volume, is a sort of restless experimentation. The "Saba" in Sweet Saba is Hebrew for grandfather: Zilberman recalls spending time in the kitchen a child, guided by her grandfather not toward the goal of making of some particular useful foodstuff, but rather to see what was possible. Her forays into cakes and candy began from the same place.

"When I started my candy business I contacted some of the people I met in art school," she recalled. "We talked about mold making, and I met with a 3D-printing artist at MIT, who consulted on the mold making. And I talked to dentists, who taught me how to make molds with food-based products." A food technologist, impressed with the range of shapes, direct-messaged her on Instagram.


Sweet Saba produces oneiric and disorienting edible art out of sugar and heat.
Sweet Saba produces oneiric and disorienting edible art out of sugar and heat.
Sweet Saba produces oneiric and disorienting edible art out of sugar and heat.

"It’s funny, I didn't take any classes — I looked on YouTube,” she laughed. “What's so wonderful about YouTube is that you can take little DIY videos that are two minutes each, and cut and paste them and make them into your own process. And that's what I did: I took anything from a stay-at-home housewife making something in her kitchen to an ironworker, to a dentist making prosthetics—and I chose all different parts of the techniques and I made them into my own."

The pairing of the whimsical with the faintly macabre is not unfamiliar in fashion, but in candy it seems to have stirred unexplored depths. Sweet Saba's candies take unexpected forms, from nostalgia (candy cassette mixtapes) to spiritual iconographies (New Age crystals and crucifixes). The intimacy suggested by hard candy is never entirely absent, either. One wryly titled item offered in her web shop is a "candy bedroom bracelet." In this sense of provocation that gently undermines an intrinsic suggestiveness, Zilberman has mobilized the sensibility she had developed in her past projects — and its mechanics as well.

Images courtesy of Maayan Zilberman and Atisha Paulson.