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Saartjie Baartman


Saartjie Baartman

Saartjie Baartman
La Belle Hottentot, a 19th century French print of Baartman
Born 1789[1]
Near Gamtoos River, Eastern Cape, Dutch Cape Colony
Died December 29, 1815 (aged 25–26)
Paris, France
Resting place Vergaderingskop, Hankey, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Other names Hottentot Venus
Ethnicity Khoikhoi

Saartjie "Sarah" Baartman (before 1790 – 29 December 1815)[1] (also spelled Bartman, Bartmann, Baartmen) was the most famous of at least two[2] Khoikhoi women who, due to their large buttocks (steatopygia), were exhibited as freak show attractions in 19th-century Europe under name Hottentot Venus—"Hottentot" was the then current name for the Khoi people, and is now considered an offensive term.[3] The word comes from Huttentut, "to stammer," implying that the Khoekhoe were without language.[4] "Venus" is, of course, in reference to the Roman goddess of love.

Baartman's name, at least the name that she is now known by, was also indicative of her historical context. "Baartman" means bearded, (to the Dutch of that era, uncivilized) man. It is thus a marker of colonized status. The record is silent as to whether Sara remembered the names given to her by her parents, that she had lived by in the Eastern Cape. The Cape records call her "Saartje", a Dutch diminutive of "Sara". In the Netherlands, a diminutive often indicated affection. At the Cape, however, such names also frequently signified colonized and servile status in Dutch society. "Saartje Baartman," in effect, meant savage servant.[5] Unfortunately, this is the only name left to her in historical narratives today.


  • Life 1
  • Southern Africa 2
  • Great Britain 3
  • France 4
  • Her body 5
    • Racism 5.1
    • Sexism 5.2
    • Colonialism 5.3
  • Feminist reception 6
    • Traditional iconography of Sarah Baartman and feminist contemporary art 6.1
    • Media representation and feminist criticism 6.2
  • Death and legacy 7
  • Display of remains 8
  • Cultural references 9
  • See also 10
  • Footnotes 11
  • References 12
  • Further reading 13
    • Films 13.1
  • External links 14


According to popular history, Saartjie Baartman (more commonly known as Sarah or Sara Baartman) was born in 1789 in the Gamtoos Valley of South Africa. When she was barely in her 20s, she was sold to London by an enterprising Scottish doctor named Alexander Dunlop, accompanied by a showman named Hendrik Cesars. She spent four years in Britain being exhibited for her large buttocks (steatopygia). Her treatment caught the attention of British abolitionists, who tried to rescue her, but she claimed that she had come to London on her own accord. In 1814, after Dunlop's death, she traveled to Paris. With two consecutive showmen, Henry Taylor and S. Reaux, she amused onlookers who frequented the Palais-Royal. She was subjected to examination by Georges Cuvier, a professor of comparative anatomy at the Museum of Natural History. In post-Napoleonic France, sideshows like the Hottentot Venus lost their appeal. Baartman lived on in poverty, and died in Paris of an undetermined inflammatory disease in December 1815. After her death, Cuvier dissected her body, then displayed her remains. For more than a century and a half, visitors to the Museum of Man in Paris could view her brain, skeleton and genitalia until she was buried.[6]

Southern Africa

Saartjie Baartman was born to a Khoisan family in the vicinity of the Gamtoos River in what is now the Eastern Cape of South Africa.[3] She was orphaned in a commando raid.[7] Saartjie is the diminutive form of Sarah; in Cape Dutch the use of the diminutive form commonly indicates familiarity, endearment or contempt. Her birth name is unknown.[6]

Baartman may have been a slave[3][8][9][10] of a Dutch farmer named Peter Cezar near Cape Town, which had recently come under British control. Peter Cezar's brother, Hendrik Cezar, took an interest in Baartman while visiting his farm and, together with Alexander Dunlop,[10] a military surgeon with a sideline in supplying showmen in Britain with animal specimens, suggested she travel to England for exhibition.[11] Lord Caledon, governor of the Cape, gave permission for the trip, but later regretted it after he fully learned the purpose of the trip.[12] She left for London in 1810.

Great Britain

A caricature of Baartman drawn in the early 19th century
Baartman's exhibition poster in London

Baartman was exhibited first in London, entertaining people because of her "exotic" origin[13] and by showing what were thought of as highly unusual bodily features. Hendrik Cezar and Alexander Dunlop were the ones who brought her to London in 1810. However, Dunlop discontinued his involvement while Cezar placed her on exhibition in the Egyptian Hall of Piccadilly Circus.[14] She had large buttocks (steatopygia) and was rumored to have the elongated labia of some Khoisan women, which were written about by earlier travelers such as François Levaillant. To quote historian of science Stephen Jay Gould, "The labia minora, or inner lips, of the ordinary female genitalia are greatly enlarged in Khoi-San women, and may hang down three or four inches below the vulva when women stand, thus giving the impression of a separate and enveloping curtain of skin".[15] Baartman never allowed this trait to be exhibited while she was alive,[16] and an account of her appearance in London in 1810 makes it clear that she was wearing a garment, although a tight-fitting one.[17]

Her exhibition in London, scant years after the passing of the Slave Trade Act 1807, created a scandal. An abolitionist benevolent society called the African Association – the equivalent of a charity or pressure group – conducted a newspaper campaign for her release. The showman associated with her exhibition, Hendrick Cezar[18] in an answer protested that Baartman was entitled to earn her living by this means: "has she not as good a right to exhibit herself as an Irish Giant or a Dwarf?".[6] Cezar presented a contract written in Dutch, since that was the only language Baartman understood, in which she "agreed" to perform domestic duties for her master as well as be viewed in public in England and Ireland "just as she was." In return, she was promised twelve guineas a year.[14] The African Association took the matter to court and on 24 November 1810 at the Court of King's Bench the Attorney-General began the attempt "to give her liberty to say whether she was exhibited by her own consent". In support he produced two affidavits in court. The first, from a Mr Bullock[19] of Liverpool Museum, was intended to show Baartman had been brought to Britain by persons who referred to her as if she were property. The second, by the Secretary of the African Association, described the degrading conditions under which she was exhibited and also gave evidence of coercion.[17] Baartman was then questioned before an attorney in Dutch, in which she was fluent, via interpreters. She stated that she in fact was not under restraint, did not get sexually abused, and that she came to London on her own free will.[14] She did not wish to return to her family and understood perfectly that she was guaranteed half of the profits. The case was therefore dismissed.[20] She was questioned for three hours without anyone connected with her exhibition being present; however the conditions under which she made these statements are suspect, because her declaration directly contradicts accounts of her exhibitions made by Zachary Macaulay of the African Institution and other eyewitnesses.[16] A written contract[21] was also produced by Dunlop, though this is considered by some modern commentators as a legal subterfuge.[6]

The publicity given by the court case increased Baartman's popularity as an exhibit.[6] She later toured other parts of Britain and visited Ireland.[6] On 1 December 1811 Baartman was baptized at Manchester Cathedral.[22][23]


Baartman, pictured next to a chair and a goura

Baartman was sold to a Frenchman, who took her to his country.[24] She was in France from around September 1814.[25] An [27] throughout these sessions she wore a small apron-like garment which concealed her genitalia. She steadfastly refused to remove this even when offered money by one of the attending scientists.[6] It has been alleged that once her novelty had worn thin with Parisians, she began to drink heavily and support herself with prostitution.[3] Baartman however had refused payment to allow scientists to observe her genitals in spring 1815, suggesting she both retained her Khoi standards of modesty and was not destitute at that time: and as a French paper[28] carried the usual advertisements for her show only a week prior to her death, she may always have been able to support herself without recourse to prostitution.

Her body

Illustration of Baartman from Illustrations de Histoire naturelle des mammifères

Since her rise to prominence Baartman's body has been used to set a borderline between the "abnormal" African woman and "normal" Caucasian woman. The fact that she had protruding buttocks and an extended The Gender and Science Reader, made her resemble everything but a white woman. She had a peculiar jaw structure, a short chin, and a flat nose, which resembled that of a "Negro". She was then considered to be part of the "Negro race," which at the time was considered the lowest race of humans. She was sometimes likened to an orangutan instead.[14]


1810 caricature of Baartman by William Heath

In cartoons and drawings Baartman's features were often exaggerated to highlight her difference from the perceived "normal" Caucasian female. This social construction of visual imagery likely amplified and reinforced racist perspectives. Little of this knowledge can be considered completely factual as most knowledge of Baartman is not extrapolated from diverse sources of documentation.

Since Baartman was subject to perform not in the regular European-style clothes she would have worn in Cape Town, but in costume. Crais says: "People came to see her because they saw her not as a person but as a pure example of this one part of the natural world".[10] In Paris, Baartman's promoters didn't need to concern themselves with slavery charges. Crais stated: "By the time she got to Paris, her existence was really quite miserable and extraordinarily poor. Sara was literally treated like an animal. There is some evidence to suggest that at one point a collar was placed around her neck." Upon death, Baartman's body was sent to George Cuvier's laboratory at the Museum of Natural History for examination. Cuvier wanted to examine her genitals to test his theory that, the more "primitive" the mammal, the more pronounced would be the sexual organs and sexual drive. Baartman refused to be an experiment while she was alive. With permission from police, Cuvier, who had amassed the world's largest collection of human and animal specimens, conducted an autopsy on Baartman's dead body. First he made a cast of her body, then he preserved her brain and genitals.[6] Cuvier concluded that "the Hottentots" were closer to great apes than humans. The rest of Baartman's flesh was boiled down to bones for Cuvier's collection and displayed for years afterward. Baartman's body did not receive a proper burial until much later.[29]


After her death, Sarah Baartman's body underwent dissection and 'analysis' of her brain, organs, genitalia and buttocks. Blaineville and Cuvier had asked Baartman to allow them to study her nude while she had been alive and she had refused them this request.[30]

During 1814–1870, there were at least seven scientific descriptions of the bodies of women of color done in comparative anatomy. Cuvier's dissection of Baartman helped shape European science. Baartman, along with several other African women who were dissected, were referred to as Hottentots, or sometimes Bushwomen. The "savage woman" was seen as very distinct from the "civilised female" of Europe, thus nineteenth century scientists were fascinated by "the Hottentot Venus".[14] In the 1800s, people in London were able to pay two shillings apiece to gaze upon her body in wonder. Baartman was considered a freak of nature. For extra pay, one could even poke her with a stick or finger.[10]

Della Perry and Ruth Whiteside are feminist theorists who have discussed how the label 'disability' and the term 'biological determinism' have affected the exploitation, discrimination and abuse of women and people of African descent. They comment on how differences in biology have dictated a social hierarchy and stratification.[31] Sara Baartman's organs, genitalia and buttocks were thought to be evidence of her sexual primitivism and intellectual equality with that of an orangutan.[30]


There has been much speculation and study about colonialist influence that relates to Saartjie Baartman's name, social status, her illustrated and performed presentation as the "Hottentot Venus", and the negotiation for her body's return to her homeland.[6] These components and events in Baartman's life have been used by activists and theorists to determine the ways in which 19th century European colonists exercised control and authority over Khoikhoi people and simultaneously crafted racist and sexist ideologies about their culture.[32] In addition to this, recent scholars have begun to analyze the surrounding events leading up to Baartman's return to her homeland and conclude that it is an expression of recent contemporary post colonial objectives.[6]

In Janet Shibamoto's book review of Deborah Cameron's book Feminism and linguistic theory, Shibamoto discusses Cameron's study on the patriarchal context within language, which consequentially influences the way in which women continue to be contained by or subject to ideologies created by the patriarchy.[33] Many scholars have presented information on how Baartman's life was heavily controlled and manipulated by colonialist and patriarchal language.[30]

Saartjie Baartman grew up on a colonialist farm. There is no historical documentation of her indigenous Khoisan name.[34] She was given the Dutch name 'Saartjie' by Dutch colonialists who occupied the land she lived on during her childhood. According to Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully:

Her first name is the Cape Dutch form for "Sarah" which marked her as a colonialist's servant. "Saartje" the diminutive, was also a sign of affection. Encoded in her first name were the tensions of affection and exploitation. Her surname literally means "bearded man" in Dutch. It also means uncivilized, uncouth, barbarous, savage. Saartjie Baartman – the savage servant.[35]

Dutch colonizers also bestowed the term "Hottentot", which is derived from the Dutch word for "stammer" or "stutter". The Dutch used this word when referencing Khoikhoi people because of the clicking sounds and staccato pronunciations that characterize the Khoikhoi language; these components of the Khoikhoi language were considered strange and "bestial" to Dutch colonizers.[6] The term was used until the 20th century, at which point most people understood its effect as a derogatory term.[36]

Travelogues that circulated in Europe would describe Africa as being "uncivilized" and lacking regard for religious virtue.[6] Travelogues and imagery depicting Black women as "sexually primitive" and "savage" enforced the belief that it was in Africa's best interest to be colonized by European settlers. Cultural and religious conversion was considered to be an altruistic act with imperialist undertones; colonizers believed that they were reforming and correcting Khoisan culture in the name of the Christian faith and empire.[6]

During the lengthy negotiation to have Baartman's body returned to her home country after her death, the assistant curator of Musee de l' homme, Philippe Mennecier argued against her return stating: "we never know what science will be able to tell us in the future. If she is buried, this chance will be lost ... for us she remains a very important treasure." According to Sadiah Qureshi, due to the continued treatment of Baartman's body as a cultural artifact, Philippe Mennecier's statement is contemporary evidence of the same type of ideology that surrounded Saartjie Baartman's body while she was alive in the 19th century.[6]

Feminist reception

Traditional iconography of Sarah Baartman and feminist contemporary art

Many African female diasporic artists have criticized the traditional iconography of Saartjie Baartman. According to the studies of contemporary feminists, traditional iconography and historical illustrations of Baartman are effective in revealing the ideological representation of black women in art throughout history. Such studies assess how the traditional iconography of the black female body was institutionally and scientifically defined in the nineteenth century.[37]

Renee Cox, Renee Green, Joyce Scott, Lorna Simpson, Cara Mae Weems and Deborah Willis are artists who seek to investigate contemporary social and cultural issues that still surround the African female body. Sander Gilman, a cultural and literary historian states: "While many groups of African Blacks were known to Europeans in the nineteenth century, the Hottentot remained representative of the essence of the Black, especially the Black female. Both concepts fulfilled the iconographic function in the perception and representation of the world."[37]

One widely noted article by Sander Gilman, "Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in the Late Nineteenth Century Art, Medicine and Literature", traces art historical records of black women in European art, and also proves that the association of black women with concupiscence within art history has been illustrated consistently since the beginning of the Middle Ages.[37]

  • South Africa government site about her, including Diana Ferrus's pivotal poem
  • A French print
  • Mara Verna's interactive audio and video piece including a bibliography
  • Guardian article on the return of her remains
  • by Zola MasekoThe Life and Times of Sara BaartmanA documentary film called

External links

  • Abdellatif Kechiche: Vénus noire (Black Venus). Paris, MK2, 2009
  • Zola Maseko: The life and times of Sara Baartman. Icarus, 1998


  • Fausto-Sterling, Anne (1995). "Gender, Race, and Nation: The Comparative Anatomy of 'Hottentot' Women in Europe, 1815–1817". In Terry, Jennifer Terry and Jacqueline Urla (Ed.) Deviant Bodies: Critical Perspectives on Difference in Science and Popular Culture, 19–48. Bloomington, Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-32898-5.
  • Hobson, Janell (2005). Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture. Routledge.  
  • Holmes, Rachel (2006). The Hottentot Venus. Bloomsbury, Random House.  
  • Qureshi, Sadiah (2011). Peoples on Parade:Exhibitions, Empire and Anthropology in Nineteenth-Century Britain. University of Chicago Press.  
  • Ritter, Sabine: Facetten der Sarah Baartman: Repräsentationen und Rekonstruktionen der ‚Hottentottenvenus‘. Münster etc.: Lit 2010. ISBN 3-643-10950-4.
  • Zhao, V. H., Lin, S. W., Liu, K. J. R. (2011). Behavior dynamics in Afrikaan culture. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Further reading

  • Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully (2009). Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: a ghost story and a biography. Princeton University Press.  
  • Gilman, Sander L. (1985). "Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature". In Gates, Henry (Ed.) Race, Writing and Difference 223–261. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • Qureshi, Sadiah (2004), 'Displaying Sara Baartman, the 'Hottentot Venus', History of Science 42:233–257. PDF available here.
  • Willis, Deborah (Ed.) "Black Venus 2010: They Called Her 'Hottentot' ISBN 978-1-4399-0205-9. Philadelphia, PA. Temple University Press


  1. ^ a b Clifton C. Crais, Pamela Scully (2009). Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: a ghost story and a biography. Princeton University Press. p. 184.  
  2. ^ Another "Hottentot Venus" featured at a fête given in 1829 for the Duchess of Berry :Poster
  3. ^ a b c d e f Davie, Lucille (14 May 2012). "Sarah Baartman, at rest at last". Retrieved 2012-08-06. 
  4. ^ Scully, Pamela; Crais, Clifton (2008-04-01). "Race and Erasure: Sara Baartman and Hendrik Cesars in Cape Town and London". Journal of British Studies 47 (2): 301–323. 
  5. ^ Scully, Pamela; Crais, Clifton (2008-04-01). "Race and Erasure: Sara Baartman and Hendrik Cesars in Cape Town and London". Journal of British Studies 47 (2): 301–323. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Qureshi, Sadiah (June 2004). "Displaying Sara Baartman, the 'Venus Hottentot'". History of Science 42 (136): 233–257. The woman ... is now called Sara Baartman. Unfortunately, no record of her original name exists and she is better known by her epithet, the Hottentot Venus', to her contemporaries, present-day historians, and political activists 
  7. ^ In her testimony to the Court of King's Bench via a Dutch interpreter Baartman said: 'Her father was a drover of cattle, and in going up the country was killed by the Bushmen.' The Times (London, England), 29 November 1810, p. 3: Law Report. Court of King's Bench.
  8. ^ Meltzer, Marisa (2007-01-09). "Venus abused". Retrieved 2013-10-18. 
  9. ^ "Sara's Story a symbol of subjugation". ChickenBones: A Journal. 2002-02-27. Retrieved 2013-10-18. 
  10. ^ a b c d Crais, Clifton. The Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography. Princeton University Press. 
  11. ^ According to a law report of 26 November 1810, an affidavit supplied to the Court of King's Bench from a "Mr. Bullock of Liverpool Museum" stated: "some months since a Mr. Alexander Dunlop, who, he believed, was a surgeon in the army, came to him sell the skin of a Camelopard, which he had brought from the Cape of Good Hope...Some time after, Mr. Dunlop again called on Mr. Bullock, and told him, that he had then on her way from the Cape, a female Hottentot, of very singular appearance; that she would make the fortune of any person who shewed her in London, and that he (Dunlop) was under an engagement to send her back in two years..." "Law Report." Times [London, England] 26 Nov. 1810: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 7 Aug. 2012.
  12. ^ The Times (London, England), 29 November 1810, p. 3: Law Report. Court of King's Bench. The Attorney-General commented "As to Lord Caledon's permission, it would have been wrong in his lordship to have given it. But it should be known, that ... no contract among them [the Khoisan] was valid unless it was made before a Magistrate. This contract between the Hottentot and Cezar was made as usual; but when Lord Caledon discovered for what purpose, he was much displeased, and would have stopped the parties if they had then been in his power."
  13. ^ A handwritten note made on an exhibition flyer by someone who saw Baartman in London in January 1811 indicates curiosity about her origins: "Sartjee is 22 Years old is 4 feet 10 Ins high, and has (for an Hoteentot) a good capacity. She lived in the occupation of a Cook at the Cape of Good Hope. Her Country is situated not less than 600 Miles from the Cape the Inhabitants of which are rich in Cattle and sell them by barter for a mere trifle, A Bottle of Brandy, or small roll of Tobacco will purchase several Sheep – Their principal trade is in Cattle Skins or Tallow. – Beyond this Nation is an other, of small stature, very subtle & fierce; the Dutch could not bring them under subjection, and shot them whenever they found them. 9th Jany. 1811. [H.C.?]" Document in the collection of the New York Public Library
  14. ^ a b c d e The Gender and Science Reader ed. Muriel Lederman and Ingrid Bartsch. New York, Routledge, 2001.
  15. ^ Gould, 1985
  16. ^ a b Strother, Z.S. (1999). "Display of the Body Hottentot", in Lindfors, B., (ed.), Africans on Stage: Studies in Ethnological Show Business. Bloomington, Indiana, Indiana University Press: 1–55.
  17. ^ a b The Times, 26 November 1810, p. 3: "...she is dressed in a colour as nearly resembling her skin as possible. The dress is contrived to exhibit the entire frame of her body, and the spectators are even invited to examine the peculiarities of her form."
  18. ^ "Nothing more is known about Cezar. Percival Kirby, op. cit. (ref. 5), suggests he may have been Peter Cezar's brother, and possibly the keeper to whom contemporary accounts of Baartman's show refer (since the name is Dutch and the keeper spoke to Sara in Dutch)." Qureshi, Sadiah, "Displaying Sara Baartman, the 'Hottentot Venus'" History of Science, Volume 42, Part 2, Number 136, June 2004, pp.233–257
  19. ^ William Bullock, b. early 1780s, d. 1849, English naturalist and antiquary.
  20. ^ Scully, Pamela (2008). "Race and Erasure:Sara Baartman and Hendrik Cesar in Cape Town and London". History of British History
  21. ^ "Dunlop produced a contract signed by himself and Sara dated 29 October 1810, which was to run from the preceding March for five years. This stated that she was his domestic servant and would allow herself to be exhibited in public in return for 12 guineas a year." Karen Harvey, "Baartman, Sara (1777x88–1815/16)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  22. ^ The Times, Thursday 12 December 1811, p.3:'The African fair one who has so greatly attracted the notice of the stated to have been baptized on Sunday week last, in the Collegiate church at Manchester, by the name of Sarah Bartmann.'
  23. ^ England Births and Christenings 1538–1975, Sarah Bartmann
  24. ^ a b Hottentot Venus' goes home"'". BBC. 29 April 2002. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 
  25. ^ Karen Harvey, "Baartman, Sara (1777x88–1815/16)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  26. ^ possibly Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire
  27. ^ "It is but justice to the modesty of the Hottentots to say that I have constantly found as many difficulties in the part of the women to submit to the exposure parts which a closer inspection required, as in all probability would have occurred in persuading an equal number of females of any other description to undergo examination." William Somerville, a British surgeon stationed at the Cape between 1799 and 1802, describing his difficulty in gathering information about Khoisan anatomy.
  28. ^ Journal des débats politiques et littéraires 21 December 1815
  29. ^ Frith, Susan. "Searching for Sara Baartman". Johns Hopkins Magazine. 
  30. ^ a b c Clifton C. Crais, Pamela Scully (2009). Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: a ghost story and a biography. Princeton University Press. pp. 131–134
  31. ^ Perry, D. and Keszia Whiteside, R. (2001). Women, Gender and 'Disability': Historical and Contemporary Intersections of "Otherness." Academy for the study of psychoanalytic Arts. p. 90
  32. ^ Clifton C. Crais, Pamela Scully. "Race and Erasure: Sara Baartman and Hendrik Cesars in Cape Town and London". Journal of British Studies, The University of Chicago Press, 2008
  33. ^ Shibamoto, S Janet. Feminism and Linguistic Theory by Deborah Cameron (Book Review), Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (1988): 635–640.Print.
  34. ^ Gordon-Chipembere, Natasha ( 2011). Representation and Black Womanhood. Palgrave Macmillan
  35. ^ Clifton C. Crais, Pamela Scully (2009). Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: a ghost story and a biography. Princeton University Press. p.9
  36. ^ Mary McMahon, "Who are the Hottentots", Wise Geek, November 9th, 2014
  37. ^ a b c d e Gilman, Sander. "Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth Century Art, Medicine, and Literature". Critical Inquiry, The University of Chicago Press, 1985
  38. ^ a b c d Willis, Deborah. "Black Venus 2010: They called her 'Hottentot.'" Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010. Project Muse
  39. ^ hooks, bell. (1992) Black Looks : Race and Representation. South End Press. pp. 115 – 131.
  40. ^ Min-ha, Trin – T, "Reassemblage: From the firelight to the screen.", Youtube, March 23, 2012
  41. ^ Lee, Jolie, "Kardashian photo plays off controversial black imagery" USA today, November 13, 2014
  42. ^ a b Thomas, Geneva, "Kim Kardashian: Posing Black Femaleness?" Clutch,
  43. ^ a b Miller, Kelsey, "The Troubling Racial History of Kim K's Champagne Shot", Refinery 29, November 13th, 2014
  44. ^ a b Telusma, Blue, "Kim Kardashian doesn't realize she's the butt of an old racial joke", The Grio, November 12th, 2014
  45. ^ "Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences of the Royal Institute of France". The Journal of Science and the Arts III (V): p. 154. 1818. Retrieved 19 July 2010. 
  46. ^ In The Blood by Steve Jones has it that "Saartje's hands are covered by the marks of the smallpox that killed her" (p. 204).
  47. ^ "The Hottentot Venus, it appears from the French papers, died at Paris last week, after an illness of eight days. Her malady is said to have been the small pox, which the physicians mistook successively for a catarrh, a pleurisy, and a dropsy of the chest." Times [London, England] 6 Jan. 1816: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 7 Aug. 2012.
  48. ^ Cuvier refers to her instrument as a "guimbarde", usually translated into English as "jew's harp": a contemporary illustration however shows Baartman with a Khoi instrument, the goura.
  49. ^ "Son caractère étoit gai, sa mémoire bonne, et elle reconnoissoit après plusieurs semaines une personne qu'elle n'avoit vue qu'une fois. Elle parloit tolérablement le hollandais qu'elle avoit appris au Cap, savoit aussi un peu d'anglais, et commencoit à dire quelques mots de francais. Elle dansoit à la manière de son pays, et jouoit avec assez d'oreille de ce petit instrument qu'on appelle épaules, son dos, le haut de sa poitrine avoient de la grace...Ses bras un peu grèles, étoient très-bien faits, et sa main charmante. Son pied étoit aussi fort joli..."("Her personality was lively, her memory good and, after a gap of some weeks, she recognised someone she had seen only the once. She spoke reasonable Dutch, which she had learned in The Cape, knew some English, and was beginning to say a few words in French. She danced according to the fashion of her own country, and played on the instrument they call the 'jew's harp' quite by ear....her shoulders, back, and upper chest were graceful...Her arms (rather slender) were very well-made, and her hand charming. Her foot was also very pretty....") Cuvier, G.:"Extrait d'observations faites sur le cadavre d'une femme connue à Paris et à Londres sous le nomme de Vénus Hottentotte", Mémoires du Musée Nationale d'Histoire Naturelle, iii (1817), pp. 259–274.
  50. ^ Hal Morgan and Kerry Tucker. Rumor! Fairfield, Pennsylvania: Penguin Books, 1984, p. 29.
  51. ^ X, Jacobus, Dr., pseud; Carrington, Charles. Untrodden fields of anthropology : observations on the esoteric manners and customs of semi-civilized peoples. American Anthropoligical society. Retrieved 19 July 2010. 
  52. ^ Kerseboom, Simone. Burying Sara Baartman": Commemoration, Memory and Historica Ethics.1""" (PDF). Stellenbosch University History Department. Retrieved 23 October 2008. 
  53. ^ The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Woman and Children
  54. ^ "SA takes on poachers". 11 November 2005. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. 
  55. ^ The Times, 10 January 1811; p. 2
  56. ^ "Another Venus once I saw, / A young Caffrarian from the Cape ;/And Bond Street swells surveyed with awe/The vast proportions of her shape. / Jet-black and woolly was her hair,/And damson-hued her bounteous lips ;/But more admired, beyond compare,/Were two enormous – pillow-slips./Yet slenderer was her girth than thine,/If measured round that Crinoline!" From "Crinoliniana" by "Dunshunner" (William Edmondstoune Aytoun:Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine Vol. 93 (572): June 1863, p.763 [2]
  57. ^ Walton: 'Hornpipe' from Facade
  58. ^ "Lyle Ashton Harris and Renee Valerie Cox: 'Hottentot Venus 2000'". Postcolonial Studies @ Emory. Emory University. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  59. ^ National poetry month at the rumpus
  60. ^ Times Live, 25 March 2013, accessed 14 July 2013Home RemediesRaw Nerves: Lauren Beukes Chats to Diane Awerbuck and Recommends
  61. ^


See also

  • On 10 January 1811, at the New Theatre, London, a pantomime called "The Hottentot Venus" featured at the end of the evening's entertainment.[55]
  • In James Joyce's novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the protagonist, Stephen Deadalus, refers to "the great flanks of Venus" after a reference to the Hottentot people, when discussing the discrepancies between cultural perceptions of female beauty.
  • In his 1847 novel [56]
  • Dame Edith Sitwell referred to her allusively in "Hornpipe", a poem in the satirical collection "Façade".[57]
  • Poet Elizabeth Alexander explores her story in a 1987 poem and 1990 book, both entitled The Venus Hottentot.
  • Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks used the story of Saartjie Baartman as the basis for her 1996 play Venus.
  • Artist Lyle Ashton Harris collaborated with the model Renee Valerie Cox to produce a photographic image, Hottentot Venus 2000.[58]
  • Poet Cathy Park Hong wrote a poem entitled Hottentot Venus in her 2007 book Translating Mo'um.
  • A movie entitled Black Venus, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche and starring Yahima Torres as Sarah, was released in 2010.
  • Composer Hendrik Hofmeyr composed a 20-minute opera entitled Saartjie which was to be premiered by Cape Town Opera in November 2010.
  • Poet Douglas Kearney published a poem titled "Drop It Like It's Hottentot Venus" in April 2012.[59]
  • Novelist Diane Awerbuck has Saartjie Baartman feature as a central thread in her novel Home Remedies. The work is critical of the "grandstanding" that so often surrounds Saartjie Baartman: as Awerbuck has explained, "Saartjie Baartman is not a symbol. She is a dead woman who once suffered in a series of cruel systems. The best way we can remember her is by not letting it happen again."[60]
  • Brett Bailey's "Exhibit B" (a human zoo) depicts Baartman.[61]

Cultural references

Baartman's skeleton and body cast were displayed in Muséum d'histoire naturelle d’Angers, where she entertained visitors until her skull was stolen in 1827, and subsequently returned a few months later. The restored skeleton and skull continued to arouse the interest of visitors until the remains were moved to the Musée de l'Homme, when it was founded in 1937, and continued up until the late 1970s. Her body cast and skeleton stood side by side and faced away from the viewer which emphasized her steatopygia (accumulation of fat on the buttocks) while reinforcing that aspect as the primary interest of her body. The Baartman exhibit proved popular until it elicited complaints from feminists who believed the exhibit was a degrading representation of women. The skeleton was removed in 1974, and the body cast in 1976.[6]

Display of remains

Signboard at the grave, including the poem by Diana Ferrus

Baartman became an icon in South Africa as representative of many aspects of the nation's history. The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children,[53] a refuge for survivors of domestic violence, opened in Cape Town in 1999. South Africa's first offshore environmental protection vessel, the Sarah Baartman, is also named after her.[54]

There were sporadic calls for the return of her remains, beginning in the 1940s. A poem written in 1978 by Diana Ferrus, herself of Khoisan descent, entitled "I've come to take you home", played a pivotal role in spurring the movement to bring Baartman's remains back to her birth soil.[3] The case gained world-wide prominence only after Stephen Jay Gould wrote The Mismeasure of Man in the 1980s. After the victory of the African National Congress in the South African general election, 1994, President Nelson Mandela formally requested that France return the remains. After much legal wrangling and debates in the French National Assembly, France acceded to the request on 6 March 2002. Her remains were repatriated to her homeland, the Gamtoos Valley, on 6 May 2002[24] and they were buried on 9 August 2002 on Vergaderingskop, a hill in the town of Hankey over 200 years after her birth.[52]

Saartjie Baartman's grave, on a hill overlooking Hankey in the Gamtoos River Valley, Eastern Cape, South Africa

She died on 29 December 1815 of an undetermined[45] inflammatory ailment, possibly genitals and brain were placed on display in Paris' Musée de l'Homme[50] until 1974, when they were removed from public view and stored out of sight; a cast was still shown[51] for the following two years.

Plaque at Baartman's grave

Death and legacy

The professional background of Goude and the specific posture and presentation of Kardashian's image on the cover of paper magazine has caused feminist critics to comment how the objectification of the Baartman's body and the ethnographic representation of her image in 19th society presents a comparable and complimentary parallel to how Kardashian is currently represented in the media.[44]

Days before the shoot, Goude often worked with his models to find the best "hyperbolized" position to take his photos. His model and partner, Grace Jones, would also pose for days prior to finally acquiring the perfect form. "That's the basis of my entire work," Goude states, "creating a credible illusion."[43] Similarly, Baartman and other black female slaves were illustrated and depicted in a specific form to identify features, which were seen as proof of ideologies regarding black female primitivism.[37]

The son of a French engineer and an American-born dancer, he grew up in a Paris suburb. From the moment he saw West Side Story and the Alvin Ailey dance troupe, he found himself captivated by "ethnic minorities" —black girls, PRs. "I had jungle fever." He now says, "Blacks are the premise of my work."[44]

A People Magazine article in 1979 describes Goude in the following statement:

According to writer Geneva S. Thomas, anyone that is aware of black women's history under colonialist influence would consequentially be aware that Kardashian's photo easily elicits memory regarding the visual representation of Baartman.[42] The photographer and director of the photo, Jean-Paul Goude, based the photo off of his previous work "Carolina Beaumont", which he took of a nude model in 1976 which was published in his book Jungle Fever.[43]

In November 2014, Paper Magazine released a cover of Kim Kardashian in which she was illustrated as balancing a champagne bottle on her extended rear. The cover received much literary criticism for endorsing "the exploitation and fetishism of the black female body."[41] The photo has received much criticism and commentary on mimicking the way in which Baartman was represented as the "Hottentot Venus" during the 19th century.[42]

Media representation and feminist criticism

In her film, "Reassemblage: From the firelight to the screen", Trinh T. Minh-ha comments on the ethnocentric bias that the colonizers eye applies to the naked female form. Minha argues that this bias causes the nude female body to be seen as inherently sexually provocative, promiscuous and pornographic within the context of European or western culture.[40] Feminist artists are interested in re-representing Saartjie Baartman's image, and work to highlight the stereotypes and ethnocentric bias surrounding the black female body based on art historical representations and iconography that occurred before, after and during Saartjie Baartman's lifetime.[38]

"Permitted" is an installation piece created by Renee Green inspired by Sarah Baartman. Green created a specific viewing arrangement to investigate the European perception of the black female body as "exotic", "bizarre" and "monstrous". Viewers were prompted to step onto the installed platform which was meant to evoke a stage, where Baartman may have been exhibited. Green recreates the basic setting of Baartman's exhibition. At the centre of the platform, which there is a large image of Baartman, and wooden rulers or slats with an engraved caption by Francis Galton encouraging viewers to measure Baartman's buttocks. In the installation there is also a peephole that allows viewers to see an image of Baartman standing on a crate. According to Willis, the implication of the peephole, demonstrates how ethnographic imagery of the black female form in the nineteenth century functioned as a form of pornography for Europeans present at Baartmans exhibit.[38]

The gaze has been and is a site of resistance for colonized black people globally. Subordinates in relations of power learn experientially that there is a critical gaze, one that "looks" to document, one that is oppositional. In resistance struggle, the power of the dominated to assert agency by claiming and cultivating "awareness" politicizes "looking" relations – one learns to look a certain way in order to resist.[39]

Reviewers of Harris and Cox's work have commented that the presence of "the gaze" in the photograph of Cox presents a critical engagement with previous traditional imagery of Baartman.[6] bell hooks has elaborated further on the function of the gaze:

Lyle Ashton Harris and Renee Valerie Cox worked in collaboration to produce the photographic piece Hottentot Venus 2000. In this piece, Harris photographs Victoria Cox who presents herself as Baartman while wearing large, sculptural, gold, metal breasts and buttocks attached to her body.[38] According to Deborah Willis, the paraphernalia attached to Cox's body are markers for the way in which Baartman's sexual body parts were essential for her constructed role or function as the 'Hottentot Venus.' Willis also explains that Cox's side angle shot makes reference to the 'scientific' traditional propaganda used by Cuvier and Julian-Joseph Virey who sourced Baartman's traditional illustrations and iconography to publish their 'scientific' findings.[38]


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