US artist Stacy Lynn Waddell’s Goldenhot Butterfly Queen has been acquired for Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. It is the 7th acquisition for a regional UK museum through the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society award, which supports the acquisition of significant works by a living female artist. This monumental composition gold leaf image references two prominent women of colour from very different moments in history: Sarah Baartman (1789-1815), the so-called ‘Hottentot Venus’ and Thelma ‘Butterfly’ McQueen (1911-1995), the Hollywood actor who played ‘Prissy’ in the film, Gone with the Wind (1940).
The museum receives the VN XX CAS award two years after the notorious toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol harbour. The questions raised by that action foreground not only who is memorialised but who commissions statues for future generations. Waddell’s watercolour is partly inspired by the actor, Butterfly McQueen, whose character Prissy was a stereotype of a foolish black maid, 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 composition gold leaf, the butterflies flutter around the monumental image of Sarah Baartman, reclaiming her exploited body, which is no longer exhibited as an exotic physical 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, Artist, said: “The lived experiences of Saartjie Baartman (1789-1815) and Thelma Butterfly McQueen (1911-1995) have long been of great interest to me. Goldenhot Butterfly Queen (2015) is a metaphor for existence. With this gilded life-sized Venus portrait, I’ve turned morbid fascination and tragedy into revelation and victory. The acquisition of this work is an opportunity to present an image that counteracts entrenched narratives and looks forward during a time that is becoming increasingly more fraught with efforts to extinguish progress.”
Valeria Napoleone said: “I’m thrilled that Stacy Lynn Waddell’s outstanding work, Goldenhot Butterfly Queen (2015), will be donated to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery this year. In this drawing, the artist uses techniques that are innovative and traditional at the same time. She pays tribute to precious material as well as the symbolism behind it and the reordering of values. This work pays a homage to black culture posing significant questions about the attributes of power and value in modern society, and across human history.”
Julia Carver, Curator, Art, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, said: “Working on this acquisition has helped me to focus deeply on what women’s art practice can bring to the debate about who is represented, what history is represented, and who brings that narrative to the fore. Stacy Lynn Waddell’s monumental drawing of Sarah Baartman poses further questions, about the ‘Hottentot Venus’. She is memorialised in composition gold leaf and aligned with the activist actor Butterfly McQueen. There is a lot of history to consider in this image.”
Caroline Douglas, Director, Contemporary Art Society, said: “Stacy Lynn Waddell’s painting will be a spectacular addition to the permanent collections in Bristol, and we hope it will be a starting point for important new conversations with the audiences at the museum. The work was chosen for its powerful evocation of historical figures, as well as for its celebratory representation of Black womanhood, and we are glad to have created new, international connections for our colleagues in Bristol.”
For more information please contact:
Tosin Adegoke, Communications Manager, Contemporary Art Society
+44 (0)20 7017 8412
Notes to Editors:
ABOUT VALERIA NAPOLEONE XX CONTEMPORARY ART SOCIETY AWARD
Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VN XX CAS) is a joint initiative of philanthropist Valeria Napoleone and the Contemporary Art Society. The purpose of the initiative is to support the acquisition of significant works by female artists for Contemporary Art Society Museum Members.VN XX CAS acts as a focal point for debate on gender inequality in the arts. It intends to provoke an examination of collecting practice and the wider effect beyond the acquisition of the awarded work
Past acquisitions through the VN XX CAS fund include works by Martine Syms for Leeds Art Gallery (2017); Aliza Nisenbaum for Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery (2018) Berni Searle for Manchester Art Gallery (2019); Mary Kelly for Brighton Art Gallery (2020); and Alexandra Bircken for The Hunterian Museum (2021).
ABOUT STACY LYNN WADDELL
Stacy Lynn Waddell (b. North Carolina, 1966) lives and works in North Caroline. Recent solo exhibition includes 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
ABOUT BRISTOL MUSEUM & ART GALLERY
Opened in 1905, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery houses the city’s world class collections, from dinosaurs and diamonds to magnificent fine art and Egyptian mummies. Twenty galleries and a changing programme of blockbuster exhibitions tell the story of the world from the beginning of time to the present day. Such is the importance of the collections that a number have ‘Designated’ or outstanding status awarded by the Government, including geology, Asian art, Bristol history and English delftware. Bristolmuseums.org.uk
ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART SOCIETY
The Contemporary Art Society champions the collecting of outstanding contemporary art and craft in the UK. Since 1910 the charity has donated thousands of works by living artists to museums, from Picasso, Bacon, Hepworth and Moore in their day, through to the influential artists of our times. Sitting at the heart of cultural life in the UK, the Contemporary Art Society brokers philanthropic support for the benefit of museums and their audiences across the entire country. Their work ensures that the story of art continues to be told now and for future generations. www.contemporaryartsociety.org