BLACK VENUS 2010: They Called Her "Hottentot."

By Brown, Tammy L. | American Studies, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

BLACK VENUS 2010: They Called Her "Hottentot."


Brown, Tammy L., American Studies


BLACK VENUS 2010: They Called Her "Hottentot." Edited by Deborah Willis. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 2010.

In this collection of scholarly essays, poetry, visual art, and reflective prose, Deborah Willis has compiled a truly interdisciplinary analysis of the life and image of Sarah Baartman, the so-called "Hottentot Venus." Born in South Africa in 1789, Baartman became one of the most infamous examples of the European obsession with black women's bodies when she was placed on display (often in a cage while wearing a flesh-colored bodysuit) in London in 1810 and in Paris. Although Baartman was not the only black woman to be exhibited in such brutal fashion, she has become one of the most notorious examples of nineteenth-century theories of racial difference. Because scholarly discussions of the racial politics that turned Baartman's body into a spectacle sometimes fail to address the psychological and spiritual horror of Baartman's experience fully, Willis's inclusion of poetry and visual art provides an added metaphysical dimension that complements the scholarly articles in this book. Black Venus 2010 is divided into four parts. The first situates Sarah Baartman in the context of nineteenth-century theories of race, ethnicity, and gender. The second explores Baartman's legacy in visual art and art history. The third centers on Baartman as a public spectacle, while the fourth discusses the image of black women in popular culture and the entertainment industry throughout the twentieth century.

Following a prologue in verse by Elizabeth Alexander, this anthology opens with a slightly revised version of Sander Gilman's classic essay "Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature," here retitled "The Hottentot and the Prostitute." Al though much scholarship on Baartman by critical race theorists and feminist scholars (such as T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting's Black Venus, 1999) has been published since Gilman's study, it remains a foundational text, and this anthology built upon it. Essays by sociologist Zine Magubani and literary critic Carol Boyce Davies illustrate this point. Zine Magubani's "Which Bodies Matter?" suggests that contemporary scholars anachronistically and incorrectly ascribe modern ideas of "blackness" to Baartman, not realizing that her status as a Khoikhoi set her apart from other Africans. …

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