Rarely do I totally bite a post from other blogs but after I seen’t this video over on Concrete Loop & just had to bite. Yes, I do read Concrete Loop! Most often I read shaking my head in disgust sighing oh hell no; what is wrong with some of these damn Negro celebs, who the hell are these “new” singers/actors, & am I the only person in the world sick of hearing about B-yon-say, that Um-ba-rell-a girl & other no count talents??? Occasionally the Concrete Loop put me up on something that I am talkin’ bout, which I guess gives it some balance after all they are one of the most popular Black blogs ever.
So I officially got me some black history this week.
Thx Concrete Loop!
Hottentot Venus: The Story
“Je est an autre” – I is another – A. Rimbaud
Saartjie Baartman was a Quena (or Hottentot) woman who was brought to Europe in 1810, to be exhibited for public inspection as an example of her tribe. Like many African tribes, the Hottentots were a significant part of ethnographic study during the 19th century. Indigenous tribes around the world provided cultural and intellectual challenges to European notions of civilisation, spiritual belief, and human body ideals – beauty and health.
The Hottentots were particularly interesting to Europeans not only because of the unpronounceable click in their language but also the physical characteristics of their women. The most significant of these were their external hanging genitalia and their large, pronounced bottoms – both of which posed a significant contrast to the bodies of women in Europe.
When she arrived in Britain and later France, Saartjie was confronted with the astonishment, curiousity and cruel heckling of a public that had limited contact with native Africans, but already had preconceived notions about them. In London Saartjie was displayed as a freak show display piece amidst the hairy women, vitiligo sufferers and obese people of the time. Since the freak shows were established on the premise of exhibiting difference, Saartjie was a marketable attraction.
Georges Cuvier, an anatomist who was familiar with the Hottentot natives, noted his astonishment about Saartjie in particular:
“What is striking about her shape is the enormous size of her hips, wider than 18 inches, and the protuberance of her buttocks, which was more than half a foot” – Georges Cuvier, 1817 Extraits dobservations
African women in particular were viewed as exotic and represented a ‘native’ eroticism, relative to ‘forbidden’ sexual life. In France, black women were used to promote brothels and their visual presence amidst white prostitutes on postcards and later in photographs, usually ensured successful patronage. Saartjie’s extreme physical difference to the established black prostitutes in Paris made her an instant target for lurid sexual advances.
Saartjie died of an infection in 1816 after prostitution and excessive alcohol abuse had consumed her body. Following her death, Cuvier made a cast of her body and dissected her brain and genitalia to be pickled in jars for ethnographic display at the Musee de l’homme in Paris. The jars remained on public display there until 1985, when they were finally put into storage.
The subject of Saartjie’s remains highlights the problematic history of acquisition and display in museums. Since Europe had a complex power relationship with Africa, it stands to reason that the development of ethnographic collections was driven by beliefs about Africans as savage peoples from a dark and uncivilised continent – notions which colonialism help to quantify.
‘Rare things or beautiful things here learnedly assembled to educate the eye of the beholder like never before seen all things there are in the world’ – Inscription Musee de L’Homme, Paris
Worldwide collections continue to grapple with the legacy of this history, and the foundations of the Musee de L’Homme were shaken when the Khoisan people (descendants of the Hottentots and Bushmen) officially asked for Saartjie’s remains to be taken back home. Since 1994, the museum has battled with the politics of her display and continued to stake their claim to her remains.
In a significant and historic feat, human rights activists, the South African government and the Khoisan people ensured that in 2002 her remains were taken back to South Africa where she was given a traditional burial. (Source: The Image of Black)
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