Friday, November 12, 2010

The Hottentot Venus


Venus Noire movie trailer

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. Her physique, particularly her large buttocks, became the object of popular fascination when Baartman was exhibited naked in a cage at Piccadilly, England. When abolitionists mobilized to put an end to 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.

The spectacle of Baartman's body, however, continued even after her death at the age of twenty-six. Pseudo-scientists interested in investigating "primitive sexuality" dissected and cast her genitals in wax. Baartman, as far as we know, was the first person of Khosian-descent to be dismembered and displayed in this manner. Anatomist Georges Curvier presented Baartman's dissected labia before the Academie Royale de Medecine, in order to allow them "to see the nature of the labia" (Curvier and his contemporaries concluded that Baartman's oversized primitive genitalia was physical proof of the African women's "primitive sexual appetite." Baartman's genitalia continued to be exhibited at La Musée de l'Homme, the institution to which Curvier belonged, long after her death.

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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25 comments:

  1. I hadnt heard this story before...

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  2. reminds me of some of these video girls out here...

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  3. i dnt know if I should be offended, but i def feel some kind of way.

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  4. Fascinating story, Jason. I'm not loving the fact that she was placed in a cage, though. I guess it's reflective of the ignorance of the age in which she existed.

    The things our people have suffered over the centuries! It's truly amazing that, as a race, we still exist, & that most of us are still sane!

    One.

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  5. I've actually done a post about Saartji on my old blog.I compared her treatment to the video girls of today.

    Her's was a tragic story.

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  6. I first heard about the Hottentot Venus via YouTube 2 years ago. I was always under the impression that she was their against her will. I guess not...LOL...Learn something new everyday!

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  7. I'm with 25champ. I haven't heard about this before and that is mos def crazy...

    I think she was treated worst... but no a days these video girls know what they are getting themselves into..and simply don't care.

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  8. Enlightening. I'd heard about this from my mother, but never knew the story in its entirety. Leave it to you, to bring the truth to it all. Gotta love Jason!

    I can't believe they caged her though...Although it was voluntary, I doubt very seriously, they had to put the woman/girl in a cage. How ironic - that they were studying 'primitive...appetite". Hmmmm.

    Have to wonder if that's why we get our asses stared at all the time now LOL! Perhaps without knowing it, the study is still being done :-)

    One year when my brother was on tour, he brought me back a wooden statue whose butt looks a lot like the one on The Hottentot Venus.

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  9. I remember learning about this a few years ago. But like others, I though it was involuntary.
    It is not very dissimilar from what is going on today with black women.

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  10. @Jstar
    There's a lot to be learned about sexism and misogyny in society from this story.

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  11. @Khaki
    Exactly Khaki! I think some of the images we see today have direct roots from Saartje story.

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  12. @MP
    Definitely fascinating! Black female exploitation has been around for a long minute.

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  13. Tragic indeed Val! I need to check your post out.

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  14. @Jet
    Yeah! That part was disturbing. If that account is accurate, she supported her own exploitation.

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  15. @Sunny D
    I guess nowadays money talks eh!

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  16. @Traci
    I think they caged her because europeans at the time believed that Africans were uncivilized and to spectacalize (I think I made this up, lol) her.

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  17. @K.
    I agree K. Some women are doing it to themselves but I think there is a deeper issue with those woman.

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  18. I heard about this a long time ago & it slipped my mind. That is very disturbing to know that she volunteered to be treated that way. Is that a clip from the movie? Is it out? I cant find it on the net.

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  19. @Poppy
    I think it's being released later this year.

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  20. I fail to believe she was in agreement with her treatment. It is possible she was told one story, the arrived in another land only to discover otherwise. Ironic how they were studying "primitive sexuality", yet she was sold for sex and died from VD.

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