Showing posts with label Hottentot Venus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hottentot Venus. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The burial ceremony for Sarah (Saartje) Baartman


BBC News reports, "'Hottentot Venus' laid to rest," on 9 August, 2002: The remains of an indigenous South African, who was paraded around Europe in the early 19th century, have been laid to rest as part of the country's Women's Day celebrations.

The burial ceremony for Sarah (Saartje) Baartman - who was dubbed the "Hottentot Venus" in Europe - took place in a remote valley in the eastern Cape where she was born more than two centuries ago.

Her remains were brought back to South Africa from France where they had been on display at the Museum of Mankind.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has declared her grave a national monument and said a second monument will be erected in her honour in Cape Town.

A celebration of diverse South African cultures began the burial ceremony.


Sideshow attraction

Sarah Baartman - a Khoisan, or indigenous woman - was taken from her homeland in 1810 after a ship's doctor told her that she could earn a fortune by allowing foreigners to look at her body.

Instead, she became a freak-show attraction investigated by supposed scientists and put under the voyeuristic eye of the general public.

She was forced to show off her large buttocks and her outsized genitalia at circus sideshows, museums, bars and universities. She died in 1816 aged 26, a penniless prostitute.


Friday's ceremony formed the centre-piece of Women's Day.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead, in Johannesburg, says Sarah has become an icon for South African women who continue to suffer abuse and exploitation in a country with one of the highest number of rapes in the world.

That was the theme touched upon by President Mbeki when he addressed the ceremony.

"The story of Sarah Baartman is the story of the African people," he said.

"It is the story of the loss of our ancient freedom... It is the story of our reduction to the state of objects who could be owned, used and discarded by others."


He added: "Sarah Baartman should never have been transported to Europe. Sarah Baartman should never have been stripped of her native, her Khoisan, her African identity and paraded in Europe as a savage monstrosity.

"Today we celebrate our national Women's Day to ensure that we move with greater speed towards the accomplishment of the goal of the creation of a non-sexist society."

Mr Mbeki said scientists of the day had used Sarah to promote grotesque racial stereotypes.

He quoted Baron Georges Couvier, who dissected Sarah's body after her death, as saying: "Her moves had something that reminded one of the monkey and her external genitalia recalled those of the orang-utan."

The burial ceremony began with the burning of a traditional Khoisan herb "boegoe" to purify her spirit.

A women's choir then sang "You are returning to your fatherland under African skies".

Her coffin was lowered into the ground near the place where she was born.

Khoisan tribal chiefs broke a bow and arrows and scattered them into the grave in a traditional ceremony honouring their ancestors.

It was a final resting place after two centuries, giving her dignity in death that was missing from her short life.

Khoisan chief Joseph Little told dignitaries around the grave: "We are closing a chapter in history. I feel her dignity has been restored." (source: BBC News)

Vénus Noire


The reviewer calls the film Black Venus by Abdellatif Kechichethe "two and a half hours of torture." From 8 November 2010 by krsienti: Abdellatif Kechiche is a Tunisian born filmmaker, now settled in France. Known For his films La Graine et Le Mulet (2007) and L’Esquive (2003).

Black Venus (Vénus Noire) pictures five miserable years of Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman in Europe. A Khoisian woman, taken to the old continent by a Dutch farmer Hendrick Caezar. The leading role, played by Yahima Torres, is sublime. Similar to Maria Falconetti in Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, largely filmed in close-ups. Not saying a word, not moving a muscle in her face – she manages to tell a variety of feelings with her eyes. Silent, almost mute, while other characters enslave her mostly verbally, she still has everyone revolving around her.


It all begins in London, where Sarah Baartman is exhibited in a freak show to entertain the lowest end of population. Nevertheless, her guardian Caezar, stresses, that Saartjie is not a slave, but an associate for their show. It is hard to believe, when you see her being placed in a cage and treated like a wild animal. As part of this show, she is being whipped, kept in chains and… touched by the curious crowd. For what? For money, of course.


Not only we see the freak-show episodes ad nauseam, with every moment it gets worse. More the curiosity grows, less Sarah is treated like a human. It could not be worse, you think, watching the absurdity of racism and the non-stop humiliation. But it does. Inevitably.


Saartjie’s show is gaining popularity, thus the public craves for more. And there is Réaux, greedy from top to toe, he buys Saartjie and takes her to France. There she performs for the rich and powerful, libertines, all suffering from vanity. These shows tend to get more and more provocative. And less bearable for the cinema viewer.


Indeed, Kechiche tortures the spectator. Not only the theme is difficult, he makes it more complicated to watch. Close-ups of Saartjie’s exhausted and desperate face followed by a roaring crowd. Every single episode of humiliation is put under a magnifying glass. At the end Kechiche goes too far, by allowing the spectator to see what Sarah have tried to hide so ardently. Seemingly, he wanted to assimilate the viewers of the film to those of freak-shows. I’m not sure whether it works as the director had planned, but the leading emotion that you feel is a major disgust. For the exploiters, viewers, scientists… everyone around Baartman’s figure. And at some extent for the director, for his voyeuristic volition to show everything. And here, everything means too much.


When you think you could not be affected more, there comes a documental scenes of her remains being returned and reburied in her homeland. After around 200 years after her birth. A nightmarish fiction is one thing, but a tragic reality is a lot to handle after watching this film.


In "Black Venus", French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche tells the story of Sawtche atrocious, "the Hottentot Venus," which was presented as an animal fair in the nineteenth century in Europe. Return on a colonial phenomenon extremely widespread and popular.

Behind the words used, there is a thought and trucks made ideas. So who knows Sawtche? Person. And Saartjie Baartman? Ah, that reminds you of something but what? Who? However, you know the doom of the "Hottentot Venus", the South African woman exhibited such a stupid show in Europe in the early nineteenth century, and studied by the French scientist Georges Cuvier in the context of building a hierarchy the races. Well, her name was Sawtche, and was later named Saartjie Baartman. But what do they say when we associate the word "Venus" and the epithet "Hottentot"?


The first refers more to the goddess of love, these Paleolithic sculptures representing women on the buttocks, hips, breasts or genitals enlarged (Lespugue Venus, Venus of Willendorf, etc.).. The term "Hottentot" would, in turn, a nickname used by Afrikaners to describe Khoïkhoïs, including language to "clicks" features stuttering could talk the ears of Europeans. Needless to say, eight years after the return of the body Sawtche of her native land, nearly two hundred years after her death, the common language still bears the traces of stainless prejudice. (source: http://www.jeuneafrique.com/Article/ARTJAJA2598p190-198.xml0/ )

Vénus Noire-French without subtitles


Monday, October 17, 2011

Sarah "Saartjie" Baartman: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus


From Salon Magazine on 9 January 2007, "Venus abused: In the early 1800s, Westerners leered at Saartjie Bartmaan's curvy body and exotic skin. But do we gawk any less today?" by Marisa Meltzer:

The life story of Saartjie Baartman, the African slave who was displayed in Europe in the early 19th century, contains so many layers of oppression to sort through that author Rachel Holmes begins by trying to untangle her name. In “African Queen: the Real Life of the Hottentot Venus,” Holmes concedes that Saartjie (pronounced “Saar-key,” meaning “little Sara”) might not even be the name she was born with, calling the -tjie diminutive suffix a “racist speech act.” Colonialist roots and all, it “was her name in life as she lived it.”


Baartman was born into the Eastern Cape Khoisan, the indigenous herding tribe that once populated part of South Africa. As a teenager, she was orphaned after her father and fianci were both murdered in a colonial war, and sold to a trader, Pieter Willem Cesars. He took her to Cape Town, where she worked for his brother as a nursemaid. Around 1810, once the family started experiencing economic difficulties, they looked to Baartman as their next source of income, figuring that in Europe, where curiosity about the Dark Continent ran rampant, “a pretty maidservant with notable buttocks and a spotty giraffe skin were a winning combination on which to stake their future.”


They settled in late Georgian London, where freak shows touting “the ne plus ultra of hideousness” or “the greatest deformity in the world” lined Piccadilly. As Holmes points out, England was transitioning from a sentimental primitivism — the noble savage — to the popular Victorian notion of ethnology. With the slave trade being abolished just a few years before and the black population of London at about 20,000, their challenge was to make the investment — Baartman — conform to stereotypes and yet also seem like a novelty. They marketed her as a kind of “scantily clad totem goddess,” the Hottentot Venus, sex incarnate. Hottentots, what European traders called the native Khoisan for the clicking sound of their language, “signified all that was strange, disturbing, alien, and possibly, sexually deviant.”


She was objectified in the most literal sense, put on display in front of gaping crowds six days a week, doing suggestive “native” dancing and playing African instruments. Her costume was a flesh-colored silk sheath deliberately cut like a second skin, with copious jewelry at the seams to conceal the fact that she wasn’t technically naked. They also fashioned her a kind of female codpiece, “the effect of its soft folds, fur fringes, and pendulous extensions was to imply that its purpose was to modestly conceal the supposedly elongated labia of a Hottentot woman” — a subject of great interest and speculation among the gawking masses. She became an instant sensation, a subject of countless life drawings (many of which are included in the book), editorials and political cartoons. The London Morning Post wrote, of her body, that “her contour and formation certainly surpass any thing [sic] of the kind ever seen in Europe, or perhaps ever produced on Earth.”


Holmes is so clearly besotted with her subject that her writing can tend toward the florid when describing her (“to behold the figure of Venus, or to hear her name was to be prompted to think about lust, or love”). Baartman physically exists in the story — the narrative is entirely devoted to her — and yet, since she was unable to read or write, very little exists in her own voice. As her story progresses, that absence becomes more and more notable. But perhaps that’s Holmes’ point: As a slave and as a woman, Baartman never did have any kind of agency in her own life. “Economically, sexually, and racially,” Holmes writes, “she was unfree.”


Her supposed liberation at the hands of abolitionists, who initiated a lawsuit to win her freedom, feels like further commodification from a party interested not in her ultimate well-being, but in drumming up publicity for their own cause. It did earn her a contract, read to her twice in Afrikaans, that covered standard demands like medical treatment, warmer clothes, profit sharing and the promise that she would eventually be sent home. “She was not seen as a sympathetic victim,” writes Holmes, who tries unsuccessfully at this point to sell Baartman as a cunning businesswoman who had “outmaneuvered her managers and made herself attractive to eligible bachelors as a woman of means.”


And while there are a few years in England where she managed to escape the probing public — she was rumored to have gotten married or had a baby, though there is no record of either — the arguably most grim period of her life came after this so-called freedom. In 1814, she and Cesars moved to Paris at the end of the Napoleonic era, where she was examined for three days by scientists at the Museum of Natural History, developed an addiction to alcohol, and, at some point, became a prostitute. She died in Paris of either a respiratory disease or syphilis — the records aren’t clear — at the age of 26. Her death didn’t bring her any dignity, either; her body was cast and dissected and became the property of the Museum of Natural History. Her brain and genitals were kept in bell jars just outside one creepy scientist’s private chambers.


Holmes devotes the last chapter to Nelson Mandela’s campaign to have Baartman’s remains returned to South Africa. It’s a reverent coda to the book, but Holmes’ own take on Baartman’s legacy might have made a more compelling end to her story. Holmes never deviates from narrating the story, which she does capably, but her reluctance to write about why she’s so moved by Baartman’s life is ultimately our loss. It never moves beyond a hagiography, and therefore doesn’t really add anything new or particularly timely. We’re left to speculate about Holmes’ motives — her bio says she divides her time between London and Cape Town, and the book is steeped in feminist theory, take your pick — but we’re left with no explanation of why she felt so drawn to this project.

She does hint at a post-Baartman world, briefly quoting Josephine Baker — “When it comes to blacks, the imagination of white folks is something else” — and she mentions the popularity of the bustle among fashionable Victorians. Holmes imagines Baartman would have laughed at buttock augmentation, the fastest-growing cosmetic surgery in the U.S. and U.K. But what does she have to say about Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” or Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious”? Now we can scoff at the clueless Valley Girls in the intro to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s asstastic “Baby Got Back” (“I mean, her butt, is just so big. I can’t believe it’s just so round, it’s like, out there, I mean — gross. Look! She’s just so … black!”), but does it mean that we’ve come a long way? In the simultaneous lasciviousness and curiosity we’ve lavished on Jennifer Lopez’s posterior, have we never stopped searching for that scantily clad totem goddess after all? We can pat ourselves on the back and feel disgusted by the story, and yet what made people leer at Baartman has the same effect on us today. (source: Salon Magazine )


VENUS 2010: Panel One - Sarah Baartman in Context from NYU Photography and Imaging on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Exhibiting "Others" in the West

The tradition of exhibiting people of color in white Western societies has existed since the earliest encounters between Europeans and indigenous populations in the New World and in Africa. Indeed, on his return to Spain after his first voyage to the New World in 1492, Columbus brought several Arawaks to Queen Isabella's court, where one of them remained on display for two years. Exhibiting non-white bodies as a popular practice reached its apogee in the nineteenth century in both Europe and in USA when freak shows--the exhibition of native peoples for public entertainment in circuses, zoos, and museums--became fairly common.

Five Indians from Kawesqar tribe were kidnapped from Chile in 1881 to be exhibited in one of the European human zoos. They all died within a year.  In January of 2010 the Germany released their remains back to the Chilean Government after 130 years! (Read more here



Ota Benga, a Congolese Pygmy who was an unfortunate victim of King Leopold's Genocide of his tribe. He was locked-up in the monkey cage at the Bronx Zoo, NY, USA in the 1906. Slavery in the USA ended in 1865. but this man was enslaved to be a public spectacle for the profit and benefit of the Bronx Zoo. In the land of the free and the home of the brave. For more information on Ota Benga click here. For more information on the murderous rape of the Congo by Belgium's King Leopold click here. To read the George Washington William's open letter that exposed King Leopold's Congo rape of natural resources and genocide of its population click here.

In USA, in particular, the spectacle of "freaks," "natives," and "savages" became a profitable industry at this time, as epitomized in popular traveling shows like Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Barnum and Bailey's Circus. World Expositions were also popular for the display of native bodies. During the expositions "natives" performed various ceremonies, rites, dances, and otherwise went about their (supposed) daily routines (even though they were on the exposition grounds). In other words, cultural "others" were employed to perform their "cultural otherness" for an Anglo-American and European audience. Up to the mid-twentieth century displays of this sort continued.

"El Negro" a stuffed (yes this is the body of a real human being) Bushman from Africa, whose body was stolen from his grave (1888), sent to a taxidermist, stuffed like an animal and displayed in Spain from 1916 until the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. Where he was sent to his remains were sent to his homeland to be buried. Click here for more.
Live exhibitions were not the only forms of human spectacle; often the dissected and embalmed remains of the "native" body, particularly the skulls, and sexual organs, were also publicly exhibited. Trophy heads, body parts, and other skeletal remains still reside in the collections of many Western museums, like The British Museum and La Musée de l'Homme, France. As recently as 1997, a small natural history museum just outside of Barcelona finally removed a stuffed Bushman from its permanent display cases, after sustained international pressure to do so. The incident strongly suggests that European fascination with exhibiting non-white bodies is not a phenomenon of the distant past.


Saarjite Baartman/ The Hottentot Venus -- Saarjite Baartman, a young Khosian woman from Southern Africa whose body was the main attraction at public spectacles in both England and France for over five years, is perhaps the most infamous case of a Khosian body on display. Baartman, who became known as the Hottentot Venus, was brought to Europe from Cape Town in 1810 by an English ship's surgeon who wished to publicly exhibit the woman's steatopygia, her enlarged buttocks.


Several prints dating from the early nineteenth century illustrate the sensation generated by the spectacle of "The Hottentot Venus." A French print entitled "La Belle Hottentot," for example, depicts the Khosian woman standing with her buttocks exposed on a box-like pedestal. Several figures bend straining for a better look, while a male figure at the far right of the image even holds his seeing-eye glass up to better behold the woman's body. The European observers remark on the woman's body: "Oh! God Damn what roast beef!" and "Ah! how comical is nature."
Her physique, particularly her steatopygic appendage, became the object of popular fascination when Baartman was exhibited naked in a cage at Piccadilly, England. When abolitionists mobilized to put an end Baartman's public display, she informed them that she participated in the spectacles of her own volition. She even shared in profits with her exhibitor.


This introduction to the history of human displays of people of color demonstrates that cultural difference and "otherness" were visually observed on the "native" body, whether in live human exhibitions or in dissected body parts on public display. Both forms of spectacle often served to promote Western colonial domination by configuring non-white cultures as being in need of discipline, civilization, and industry.

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