Materials:Gold leaf, Watercolour, Pencil, Paper
Dimensions:244 x 137 cm
Credit:Presented by the Contemporary Art Society through Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VNXXCAS), 2021/22
Ownership history:Purchased from Candice Madey, New York by the Contemporary Art Society through Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VNXXCAS), 2022; presented to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, 2021/22
Bristol received the VNXX 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’.
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.
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