Black Venus 2010

Black Venus 2010: They Called Her "Hottentot"

With research assistance by Carla Williams
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 256
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    Black Venus 2010
    Book Description:

    As a young South African woman of about twenty, Saartjie Baartman, the so-called "Hottentot Venus," was brought to London and placed on exhibit in 1810. Clad in the Victorian equivalent of a body stocking, and paraded through the streets and on stage in a cage she became a human spectacle in London and Paris. Baartman's distinctive physique became the object of ridicule, curiosity, scientific inquiry, and desire until and after her premature death. The figure of Sarah Baartman was reduced to her sexual parts.

    Black Venus 2010traces Baartman's memory in our collective histories, as well as her symbolic history in the construction and identity of black women as artists, performers, and icons. The wide-ranging essays, poems, and images inBlack Venus 2010represent some of the most compelling responses to Baartman. Each one grapples with the enduring legacy of this young African woman who forever remains a touchstone for black women.

    Contributors include:Elizabeth Alexander, Holly Bass, Petrushka A Bazin, William Jelani Cobb, Lisa Gail Collins, Renée Cox, J. Yolande Daniels, Carole Boyce Davies, Leon de Wailly, Manthia Diawara, Diana Ferrus, Cheryl Finley, Nikky Finney, Kianga K. Ford, Terri Francis, Sander Gilman, Renée Green, Joy Gregory, Lyle Ashton Harris, Michael D. Harris, Linda Susan Jackson, Kellie Jones, Roshini Kempadoo, Simone Leigh, Zine Magubane, E. Ethelbert Miller, Robin Mitchell, Charmaine Nelson, Tracey Rose, Radcliffe Roye, Bernadette Searle, Lorna Simpson, Debra S. Singer, Penny Siopis, Hank Willis Thomas, Kara Walker, Michele Wallace, Carla Williams, Carrie Mae Weems, J. T. Zealy, and the editor.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0206-6
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Prologue: The Venus Hottentot (1825)
    (pp. 1-2)
  5. Introduction: The Notion of Venus
    (pp. 3-12)

    This anthologyof art, critical writings, poetry, and prose on and around the subject of Sarah, or Saartjie, Baartman, the so-called “Hottentot Venus,” has been a long time coming. The contributions in this collection are scholarly and lyrical, historical and reflexive, capturing the spirit of a new body of literature about Baartman.

    In 1991, I first read an article in theVillage Voicetitled “Venus Envy”¹ by Lisa Jones, and since then I have been intrigued with Baartman’s life story. I began to create artwork about her and the notion of beauty in an effort to find a way to...

  6. PART I Sarah Baartman in Context
    • 1 The Hottentot and the Prostitute: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality
      (pp. 15-31)

      One of the classic works of nineteenth-century art records the ideas of both the sexualized woman and the black woman. Edouard Manet’sOlympia, painted in 1862–1863, first shown in the salon of 1865, documents the merger of these two images. (See Figure 3.) The conventional wisdom concerning Manet’s painting states that the model, Victorine Meurend, is “obviously naked rather than conventionally nude,”¹ and that her pose is heavily indebted to such classical models as Titian’s 1538Venus of Urbino, Goya’s 1800Naked Maja, and Delacroix’s 1847Odalisque, as well as to other works by Manet’s contemporaries, such as Gustave...

    • 2 Another Means of Understanding the Gaze: Sarah Bartmann in the Development of Nineteenth-Century French National Identity
      (pp. 32-46)

      When Sarah Bartmannfirst appeared in London, the famous actor Charles Mathews went to the exhibition. Later, in his memoirs, his wife wrote that when Mr. Mathews arrived, Bartmann was:

      surrounded by many persons, somefemales! One pinched her, another walked round her; one gentlemanpokedher with his cane; and oneladyemployed her parasol to ascertain that all was, as she called it,‘natural’. This inhumane baiting the poor creature bore a sullen indifference, except upon some great provocation, when she seemed inclined to resent brutality, which even a Hottentot can understand. On these occasions it required all...

    • 3 Which Bodies Matter? Feminism, Post-Structuralism, Race, and the Curious Theoretical Odyssey of the “Hottentot Venus”
      (pp. 47-61)

      Any scholar wishingto advance an argument on gender and colonialism, gender and science, or gender and race must, it seems, quote Sander Gilman’s “White Bodies, Black Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature.” First published in a 1985 issue ofCritical Inquiry, the article has been reprinted in several anthologies. It is cited by virtually every scholar concerned with analyzing gender, science, race, colonialism, or their intersections (Haraway 1989; Vaughan 1991; Crais 1992; Gordon 1992; hooks 1992; Rattansi 1992; Schiebinger 1993; Wiss 1994; Fausto-Sterling 1995; McClintock 1995; Pieterse 1995; Stoler 1995; Abrahams...

    • 4 Exhibit A: Private Life without a Narrative
      (pp. 62-67)

      This essay is a case studythat explores the space of liminal constructions through the body of the “black” female.¹ This liminal space is a physiological threshold with psychological dimensions that has been instrumental to symbolic and discursive order.

      The biologic construction “female” applies to humans and animals and is not synonymous with the cultural distinction or, perhaps, discipline of the “feminine.” The “feminine,” those attributes that mark or distinguish the female, has been defined by Eurocentric and patriarchal definitions of the civil. The feminine has and continues to be an embodiment that displays the threshold or limit of “civity”...

    • 5 crucifix
      (pp. 68-68)
  7. PART II Sarah Baartman’s Legacy in Art and Art History
    • 6 Historic Retrievals: Confronting Visual Evidence and the Imaging of Truth
      (pp. 71-86)

      Visual documentation emboldensand lends credence to myth. Similarly, visual corroboration of scientific theory enhances its power and extends its reach. Given this, it is not surprising that those who try to make such meaning have eagerly sought visual evidence that can explain or confirm racialized myths and theories. Producers of images have been a part of these systems of meaning-making, and some have used their skills to provide visual “proof” of the inherent difference and inferiority of people of African descent. In the first part of this essay, I examine some of these processes by charting two instances of...

    • 7 Reclaiming Venus: The Presence of Sarah Bartmann in Contemporary Art
      (pp. 87-95)

      Numerous contemporary artistsand writers in recent years have created works reclaiming the historical figure of Sarah, or Saartje, Bartmann. Exhibited, ostensibly as a paradigm of what her culture valued as physical beauty, Bartmann was viewed by European audiences as a grotesque yet exotic, deviant yet desirable, presentation of black sexuality. Her presence in European popular culture extended far beyond her five years of display. After Bartmann’s death, at least one other African woman was brought to Europe and presented as a “Hottentot Venus,” and many other unidentifi ed women from Africa with similar physiques were photographed naked into the...

    • 8 Playing with Venus: Black Women Artists and the Venus Trope in Contemporary Visual Art
      (pp. 96-106)

      Black folks in grass skirtscrowd around fires where some are suspended in anticipation of a cannibalistic feast; a black woman’s anatomy is shown in a series of frontal and profile photographs with accompanying text about the relationship of her physiognomic characteristics to her character and capacity; a pickaninny struggles to free himself from bonds. These are the images that we avoid but still expect to find in museum archives, in private collections, and, most recently, recycled in the new frenzy of memorabilia. They are oft-repressed visual reminders of legacies of oppression and inequity, retired to “appropriate” and innocuous spaces...

    • 9 Talk of the Town
      (pp. 107-111)

      When an exhibitionof Seydou Keïta’s photographs opened in 1997 in SoHo, I was intrigued by the statement made by a West African colleague of mine:This is exactly like it was in those days. That yellow convertible, the first Cadillac in Mali, everyone remembers as belonging to Sylla, the antique dealer in Bamako. And this one, with the long tribal scars from his sideburns to his chin, must have been a Mossi soldier. The one over there’s a grande dame with her fancy scarf, her gold rings alongside the strands of her cornrowed hair, her tattooed lower lip, and...

    • 10 The “Hottentot Venus” in Canada: Modernism, Censorship, and the Racial Limits of Female Sexuality
      (pp. 112-125)

      There is an indelible markin the memories of my Canadian undergraduate education as a student of western art history.¹ If I had been given a penny for every time a professor had lectured on Edouard Manet’sOlympia(1863; see Figure 3), only to refuse to discuss the conspicuous presence of the black maid, I would be quite a wealthy woman today. Noting the historical compulsion to erase her presence, Lorraine O’Grady has argued that

      She is the chaos that must be excised, and it is her excision that stabilizes the West’s construct of the female body, for the “femininity”...

    • 11 A.K.A. Saartjie: The “Hottentot Venus” in Context (Some Recollections and a Dialogue), 1998/2004
      (pp. 126-143)

      A decade ago I put together a proposal for an exhibition on the image of the Hottentot Venus. Titled “Reclaiming Venus,” the show was motivated by numerous African American women cultural practitioners who began to take up the theme in the late twentieth century. My first inspirations were visual artists Renee Green, Tana Hargest, Lorna Simpson, Carla Williams, and Deborah Willis, and writers Elizabeth Alexander, Lisa Jones, and Suzan-Lori Parks. As one version of my prospectus read:

      In the early 19th century, Saartjie Baartman, a Khoi-San woman of southern African, was displayed publicly throughout Europe as the “Hottentot Venus.” Exhibited...

    • 12 little sarah
      (pp. 144-144)
  8. PART III Sarah Baartman and Black Women as Public Spectacle
    • 13 The Greatest Show on Earth: For Saartjie Baartman, Joice Heth, Anarcha of Alabama, Truuginini, and Us All
      (pp. 147-148)
    • 14 The Imperial Gaze: Venus Hottentot, Human Display, and World’s Fairs
      (pp. 149-154)

      In his important article,“Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity,” Stuart Hall makes some signifi cant points regarding the usefulness of Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony to any discussion of popular culture. Gramsci defined cultural hegemony, as opposed to the coercive forces of outright domination, as “a very particular, historically specific, and temporary ‘moment’ in the life of a society. It is rare for this degree of unity to be achieved…. Such periods of ‘settlement’ are unlikely to persist forever. There is nothing automatic about them. They have to be actively constructed and positively maintained.”¹

      From his...

    • 15 Cinderella Tours Europe
      (pp. 155-162)

      With her usual senseof clever wit and passion for historical inquiry, Joy Gregory has created a series of photographs that might forever change the image of Cinderella and the idea of Europe, past and present. InCinderella Tours Europe, Gregory has photographed famous buildings, monuments, and cities associated with the construction of a popular image of Europe, such as the famed Sagrada Familia Church by Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona or the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The places that Gregory has chosen to record on film comprise a list of the classic sites of memory on any tourist’s photographic itinerary....

    • 16 Mirror Sisters: Aunt Jemima as the Antonym/Extension of Saartjie Bartmann
      (pp. 163-179)

      Aunt Jemimabegan her public career as a spectacle in minstrelsy. She was a white man for much of the early part of her career and the “knowledge that the black woman was really a white man was an integral part of the pageant.”¹ She began a second stage in her career at the 1893 Columbian World’s Exposition in Chicago where a black woman portrayed and personified her. She was a product shill but she became the prototypical mammy figure in American culture. In many ways Aunt Jemima was the mirrored counterpart for the sexualized black woman in Europe, emblematized...

    • 17 My Wife as Venus
      (pp. 180-182)

      Shortly after my daughterJasmine-Simone was born at George Washington University Medical Hospital, I had an interesting conversation with my wife Denise. I recall her holding our fi st-born child against her chest and mentioning how beautiful she was and how blessed we were. My wife, still beaming, then said, “And she has all her toes.” In many ways this remark told me how deeply my wife had been affected by the shape of her feet. My wife was born with stunted toes on both feet. A very small “fourth” toe created a significant “deformity” which is obvious to anyone...

    • Gallery
      (pp. None)
  9. PART IV Iconic Women in the Twentieth Century
    • 18 agape
      (pp. 185-185)
    • 19 Black/Female/Bodies Carnivalized in Spectacle and Space
      (pp. 186-199)

      The need to think throughthe black female body obtains significance given the location, in the semiotic field, of black bodies and female bodies historically. Even so, the black female body carries its own set of resonances, also historically locatable, which demand independent articulation. The epigrammatic quote which leads this paper is taken from “Black Body Politics” by Afro-Caribbean scholar/activist Alrick Cambridge, who makes some arguments that I find helpful. Speaking in the context of police violence on the black body in England, the context in which he works, he asserts:

      The black body is a surface of traces. Outwardly...

    • 20 Sighting the “Real” Josephine Baker: Methods and Issues of Black Star Studies
      (pp. 199-209)

      When conducting researchon a celebrity such as Josephine Baker, the essential work is not separating fact from rumor, but understanding the ways in which intertwined strands of rumors and facts about her circulate and gain meaning among a variety of believing audiences, constituting what Dyer refers to in the epigraph as the constructed existence or public persona, which is independent of her screen fiction. Baker’s real voice is almost a holy grail and I would not argue for abandoning its pursuit, but the reality is more complicated than any notion of basic authenticity would imply because her expressivity is...

    • 21 The Hoodrat Theory
      (pp. 210-212)

      The flyers posted in Cosby Hallsaid it all: “We Care About Your Sister, But You Have To Care About Ours, Too.” The slogan explained the position of the studentactivists at Spelman College whose protests over Nelly’s 2004 “Tip Drill” video led the artist to cancel his scheduled appearance for a bone marrow drive on the campus. But in a real sense, their point went beyond any single rapper or any single video and went to the center of a longstanding conflict in the heart of the black community.

      We have, by now, been drowned by the cliché defenses and...

  10. Epilogue: I’ve Come to Take You Home (Tribute to Sarah Bartmann Written in Holland, June 1998)
    (pp. 213-214)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-222)
  12. Contributors
    (pp. 223-228)
  13. Index
    (pp. 229-238)