Saartje ‘Sara’ Baartman or better known through her colonial nickname the ‘Hottentot Venus’. (Hottentot was a phonetic description of the Khoi-San people – Now considered derogatory. Hottentot was used because when spoken quickly it imitates the sound of the (now largely extinct KhoiKhoi Language) at the time and Venus eludes to the name of the Goddess of love , however Baartman experienced nothing but abuse throughout her life.) became one of the most famous women of her day in europe from the years 1810 to 1815. During Baartman’s short life her body was fetished to the point of sadism even after her death.
Born in 1789 she was taken from her native South Africa to London as a slave where she became the objects of a humiliating freak show for no other reason than the dimensions of her body. There is no doubt that Baartman’s body was unusual in its exaggeration of her buttocks and it has also been documented that she had an elongated labia. Put on display as an objective of curiosity she was presented like an animal to paying visitors with the price of the show including the opportunity to touch her if they weren’t ‘too afraid’ to.
After this period of her life she was moved to Paris where she became the subject of biological paintings where scientists tried to prove that her body was that of a prehistoric form. To extend the already unbearable humiliation to Baartman’s existence her genitialia which was meant to have been of a larger scale was repeatedly offered money if she would display it to an academic audience.
Towards the end of her life she was finally subjected to prostitution in private parties at first, then developing alcoholism she worked in a brothel and died of an unknown disease however it has been speculated that it was either from syphilis or from alcoholism.
However the objectification of her body didn’t end after her death, it was then dissected and placed into formalin by a French anatomist and zoologist that used his research to attempt to demonstrate in front of the French National Academy of Medicine a racist theory of evolution for which black bodies were considered as pre-humans.
A mold created of her corpse was then exhibited by the prestigious Musée de l’Homme in Paris until 1974, and it was only in 2002 that the demands from the Khoïkhoï (racistly called “Hottentot” by the Afrikaners), supported by the post-Apartheid South African government, were met by the French government in order to send back Baartman’s remains to be buried on her native land. Nelson Mandela requested her remains be brought home in 1994. It took eight years for the French to pass a bill to have their “scientific curiosity” return to South Africa. It is truly disgusting that it took a total of 187 years for her body to put to rest for the show to end of Baartman her pain is over.
The variations of colonised subjectivity that Baartman experienced was heartbreakingly varied, obviously there is the formation which took place through her being a slave which is more obvious but then this is also miser with the capitalized spectacle of her body which combines racist objectification with the display of her body as a commodity, and then the academic interest for her body’s morphology to serve colonial ideologies through the simulacrum of scientist evolutionary demonstrations even after her actual death.
The slave master, the capitalist entertainer, the pimp and the racist scientist are the four aspects of the same figure of the colonialist. This dominating figure wants to simultaneously have access to free or under-payed (wo)manpower, to develop an economy of spectacle to its bourgeois audience, to subjugate the colonized body to his desire eventually to justify the system of rationality he uses to legitimatize his acts through the fallacious construction of an ideology that excludes the colonized body from the realms of human beings entitled to rights. (source)
It is interesting looking at Baartman’s life not only as a lesson to the extremity of colonised society but how currently women’s bodies are fetishised for having exaggerated African features. The Kardashianation of our contemporary society over the last few years has seen a boom in women amplifying and distorting the natural dimensions of their bodies to maintain some kind of current ideal of what is now deemed as sexy. It is of course unusual for women who are not from the decent of South American or African genetics to create the shape of this kind of body without the aid of either intensive exercise or surgery. But even then many women who naturally emulate this shape are going through surgical procedures to extend this physical shape. There is a kind of extremity in how rapidly this trend in body shape has escalated which brings up ideas of curiosity in how these women’s bodies will appear once this trend falls out of fashion.
How one kind of body was deemed with such colonial venom and disgust 160 years later we now seem an amalgamation of this kind of shape come into the most sexually fetishized and generally unrealistic formation for many women emulating this look to acheive. It is difficult to say whether there is anything empowering about this transformation as its main purpose it to entice male sexual interest which seems rather backwards in terms of what someone like Baartman’s body went through (or basic feminism?). But then again there is the argument that this shape celebrates a figure which has almost always been ‘out of fashion’ which is no bad thing. The issue here is more about the artificiality and painful procedures that women are experiencing to attract other men.
We now see women creating whole careers for themselves simply for the shape of their bodies with women such as Blac Chyna or Kim Kardashian flaunting a kind of impossibility which sits so uneasily and quite surreally on their small frames. Especially when their fame stems from very little other than previous sex work or being the partner of a more famous man. Only a few years ago this kind of body would have been considered unattractive to both sexes but what does it say about our society that women are being fetishsized in this way and men from all over the world are spectating and enjoying it? Many women are looking up to these examples and mimicking this look as something desirable. As the availability of more and more extreme pornography becomes common place and even more mundane but totally unrealistic sexual acts become so easily streamed into the majority of the growing worlds minds the physical components of the over exercised porn stars bodies is also seeming to trickle down to more and more women.
Modifying your own physicality is always a personal choice and people must always create something that they believe will endorse self confidence or an aesthetic of decision, but I can’t help but feel that men are still not enduing as much pain for the sake of attracting other females and this type of body shape unless natural creates some difficult issues in how we still see women as objects of sex and how so many women are happy to be subjected like that…
"The Biggest Ass in Brazil"
Introduced by Harry Cheadle for Vice
La poire/ Venus of Willendorf
"La poire" how she was originally called, because of the shape which remind a lot to a pear, is a figure of a women from Old Stone Age, and about 28 000 years old.
She has a hight about 10cm, and is carved out of Limestone.
Her fets are missing, which makes it impossible to stand on her own.
It was emphazized that she was a fertility goddess.
In 1908 she was found by Johann Veran or Josef Veram, in a excavations conducted by Joseph Bayer, Josef Szombathy and Hugo Obermaier, by Galgenberg, bei Stratzing/Krems Rehberg…
Among the biggest ethnic groups in middle and south Africa, the Bantu, were the Zulu in South Africa, the Luba in Kongo and Kikuyu in Kenya are part of. Steatopygia is a sign of beauty. It is a fat accumulation around the buttocks, which is most likely to appear at women…
Directed by Camille Vivier
Susan Bright: Why did you call the piece Monument!?
Camille Vivier: The title I finally chose was ‘Monument’ because it refers to a celebration and I like the gap between what a monument is supposed to be and the intimacy of a candle, which is more related to still life paintings and the Vanitas tradition. It was also a way to break with the over-romanticised aspect. I was doing work about candles at the time and more specifically about rituals and magic candles. (This one is a Santeria candle - a Brazilian cult mixing catholic and African animalist belief, something like voodoo. People use it to celebrate a union and make it more fruitful).
How did you choose the music to accompany the film!?
A friend composed the music to whom I gave complete ‘carte blanche’. I liked the idea that it told a story and that it accompanies the film. I did not want either something too conceptual or something that would have been more important than the image. I hope that we have found a good balance and a true compliment.
The two figures become one - is this a symbolic representation of love!?
My initial idea was centred round time and transformation or alteration. It’s true that the couple brings a symbolic dimension, but I liked the idea that these two distinct bodies just became one in an abstract block. They do not suddenly become one, but with time they become consumed with love and their future is as one. It is a history of love from its start to its end and with all its tests along the way. I like the idea of sharing and find reassuring the idea that they face the fire together.
A flame is an ancient symbol associated with love and desire used throughout art and literature. Are there any specific works that were an inspiration!?
The flame of course leads us back to passion. I was rather thinking of 'Wild at Heart' by David Lynch where the fire becomes a recurrent motif; through the fire, the sound of a struck match, a cigarette lit after love. Fire recalls above all time that passes and the fatality of life, through their love they are linked in their destiny. I also saw, a little after I finished my film, Fritz Lang’s 'The Three Lights', where each candle represents a life and where death is represented by each extinguished flame. In my film it is the double death. The flame becomes symbolic through what the candle represents, but I could have found another process of degradation. I wanted the action of the fire to act progressively in real time, knowing that I was then going to accelerate it.
What did you want to say with the film!?
To sum up, what makes a happy life (and therefore a happy end) is love and poetry, the acceptance of our fragility, and our ability to absorb things. In spite of our individuality, we only live through others and are part of a whole…
Maison Martin Margiela
Directed by Camille Vivier