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Stacy Lynn Waddell’s Goldenhot Butterfly Queen acquired for Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

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American artist Stacy Lynn Waddell’s Goldenhot Butterfly Queen has been acquired for Bristol Museum & Art Gallery through the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society award, which supports the acquisition of significant works by a living female artist for a museum collection. This monumental gold leaf image brings together two figures in colonial history. Sarah Baartman (1789-1815), the so-called ‘Hottentot Venus’ and Thelma ‘Butterfly’ McQueen (1911-1995), the Hollywood actor, ‘Prissy’ from Gone with the Wind. This work will be on display in the gallery from March, as it will be revealed on the 8th March, coinciding with International Women’s Day.

Bristol received the VN XX CAS award in the aftermath of the notorious toppling of the statue of Edward Colston. The questions raised by this momentous act foreground not just who is memorialised but who makes the figures set in stone or bronze for future generations. The museum was seeking to recalibrate this debate, towards an art of inclusivity away from singular heroic figures and grand aesthetic gestures. Waddell’s watercolour approaches these aims. Inspired by Butterfly McQueen, whose character Prissy was a stereotype of a foolish black maid, Waddell’s drawing features butterflies taking flight.

‘Just before things get too scary and before I awake myself I begin to fly. What amazement! Just as I gain altitude …I am left wondering if my true power is the ability to fly or the ability to wake myself’ - Stacy Lynn Waddell, Letter to Butterfly McQueen

Rendered in gold leaf, the butterflies flutter around the monumental gold leaf image of Sarah Baartman, reclaiming her exploited body, which is no longer exhibited as an exotic, a curiosity and a physical (steatopygic) type to fit a racialist theory. Waddell reverses the racialist voyeurism of the exhibiting of Baartman as the so-called Hottentot Venus, to reclaim Baartman’s body as an icon of Black beauty and pride.

Although a monumental work, the precious fragility of this drawing on paper, the dual figures alluded to, are distinct from the permanent memorializing of statues such as the toppled Colston: narratives are challenged, and space is given for alternatives.

Stacy Lynn Waddell (b. North Carolina, 1966) lives and works in North Caroline. Recent solo exhibition include CANDICE MADEY, New York, NY (2021); Visual Arts Center of Richmond, Richmond, VA (2015); and Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC (2011) Recent group exhibitions include The Art of the Ecstatic, KARMA, New York, NY (curated by Hilton Als) (2021); Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA (2021); Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY (2018). Her work is in the collections of The Princeton Art Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Brooklyn Museum, among numerous other museums and private collections. In fall of 2022, Stacy will be a Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellow in Umbria, Italy. In 2017, she was an Artist-in-Residence at Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans. She was a 2010 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation.