Lucy Maude (b. 1994 London, UK) is a multidisciplinary artist currently working in Kentucky. Their work revolves around imperialism, fantasy, and performative gender in the contemporary American West. They are also the art editor of Contra Viento, a literary arts magazine publishing work on rangelands of the world.
“My work focuses on the working American West through the eyes of someone who failed to make a living in it. I worked as a cowboy for nearly four years on cattle ranches around the Southwest, and have been dogged by those four years ever since. The cowboy is a mythic figure, an avatar for America itself, and he embodies all the traits of good, American masculinity. White, strong, polite, handsome, and with an indefatigable work ethic, the cowboy stands astride our collective imaginations as an emblem of all that is admirable about the United States. He (or she, for a cowboy can be female too – a “cowgirl” is something very different) is sexually appealing, in some form, to every gender and orientation. The cowboy represents freedom, rugged individuality, and a relationship to nature and animals in a way that can provoke yearning in even the most metropolitan of leftists, and certainly does for conservatives. In my work I seek to examine the ways that cowboys are mascots for the American Empire: how they uphold its virtues, spread its religion and culture, and offer a beguiling face to mask its genocidal, settler-colonial capitalism. Jack Lope, my cowboy drag king and general character, is an embodiment of both the most imperialistic sides of American cowboying and its queerest. He is a way for me to live in the ultra-male spaces I was never fully allowed in while working on ranches, and a way to pull apart the façades of American masculinity and cowboy worship.
I also aim to look at the more tangible aspects of the American West. While the cowboy remains as popular a figure as ever – one need only look at the success of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” to confirm – cattle production and beef consumption is set on a slow, steady decline. And yet, while documentaries and articles abound on the evils of animal agriculture, correctly-managed livestock grazing can increase carbon sequestration, plant biodiversity, soil health and water retention, all while producing nutrient-rich food from animals that lived calm, healthy lives. From the romanticized Hollywood studio to politically-charged documentary photography, I am interested in the many ways that ranching and cowboys are depicted in visual media. My work offers an insight into the day-to-day realities of working a cattle operation, from sorting cattle through corrals for vaccinations, to the monotony of building a barbed-wire fence, to the black humor that develops from raising animals from birth to death. As our climate apocalypse hits ever harder, food production and land use will need to be at the forefront of our conception for a better world. Agricultural reform in the United States will always, eventually, run up against the figure of the cowboy, guarding this genocidal nation’s most cherished ideals. A better future is not possible without gutting him.”