Hot type about the Venus Hottentot

In this blog entry, Deb Willis, editor of Black Venus 2010 discusses Sarah (Saartjie) Baartman, the “Hottentot Venus,”  and the inspiration for her new collection of essays, poems, photographs and artwork.

Black Venus 2010: They Called Her “Hottentot,” focuses on critical works on the subject of Sarah, or Saartjie, Baartman, the so-called “Hottentot Venus.” The book includes scholarly, lyrical, historical and artistic works, capturing the spirit of a new body of work about Baartman.

Nearly two hundred years after her death and five years after her “homegoing” burial in South Africa, Sarah Baartman’s short life has been examined, critiqued, distorted and mythologized. Born in South Africa in 1789, Baartman was brought to England and placed on exhibit in 1810. She was exhibited on stage and in a cage in London and Paris and performed at private parties for a little more than five years. The so-called “Hottentot Venus” was “admired” by her protagonists, who depicted her as animal-like, exotic, different, and deviant.

The book is divided in four parts– “Sarah Baartman in Context,” ”Sarah Baartman’s Legacy in Art and Art History,” “The ‘Hottentot Venus’ in Art and Film,” and “Iconic Women in the Twentieth Century,” with contributors from various disciplines. The sections explore the physiological and psychological threshold of the space in which Baartman performed, the multiple possibilities in recuperating Baartman’s story as they traverse the crossroads of sexuality and specularity, past and present, production and reception of visual representations. The book concentrates on the art historical aspect of Baartman’s legacy.

Readers may ask one of the most obvious questions surrounding the interest in Baartman —why her? She was neither the first nor the only African woman on display in Europe. Some of the writers in this volume noted that at least one other African woman was exhibited as a “Hottentot Venus” after Baartman’s death. We have only to look at contemporary culture to see the way in which Sarah Baartman’s image continues to be recycled as fashion in the works of some contemporary photographers. The anthology also examines the lives of women who were and still are iconic figures in the twentieth century, such as Josephine Baker.

Contributors include an architect, a ceramicist, poets, writers, historians, photographers, installation artists, and writers, including: Holly Bass, Lisa Gail Collins, Renee Cox, J. Yolande Daniels, Carole Boyce Davies, Diana Ferrus, Cheryl Finley, Nikkey Finney, Kianga Ford, Terri Francis, Renee Green, Lyle Ashton Harris, Roshini Kempadoo, Michael Harris, Linda Susan Jackson, Simone Leigh, Zine Magubane, E. Ethelbert Miller, Charmaine Nelson, Debra Singer, Berni Searle, Michele Wallace, Carla Williams and Elizabeth Alexander.

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