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Material Practices: Sara Baartman’s Iconic Status (Qureshi, 2004)

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Presentation on theme: "Material Practices: Sara Baartman’s Iconic Status (Qureshi, 2004)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Material Practices: Sara Baartman’s Iconic Status (Qureshi, 2004)
Sadiah Qureshi (left) Living curiosities: human ethnological exhibitions in London, Cambridge Ph.D. 2005 Human Ethnological Display -similar to the collection of animals and their display in menageries - both depend on an appetite for consuming exotic displays (p. 249) “her treatment as representative of the negativity of modern depictions of black sexuality is typical of her modern politicization - risk of re-establishing her as a curiosity merely renamed as cultural icon

2 Historicization “Sarah Baartman’s tale is in many ways unexceptional” p. 251
Specificity Contextualization of Baartman’s legacy Attention to the material processes involved in Baartman’s objectification, exhibition and politicization Black population of London heterogeneous - 20,000 Baartman important not because Black, but because a Khoikhoi woman, political relevance Generalization Baartmen unexceptional Proslavery campaign needed to create image of the Black that erased cultural differences (emancipation of English slaves in 1807) Wider racialized debates on human difference 2000 Khosian skeletons in S. African museums Physiognomy commonly used in 19th century to establish racial superiority Treatment as animal in London freak shows not uncommon

3 Formation of Imperial Collections
Khoikhoi perceived as link between ape and human in “nature’s great hierarchy” (Typology, classification, emphasis on purity, Morris - “known in life”) Colonializing perceived to benefit indigenous peoples Network of suppliers and consumers in animal trade – Dunlap (surgeon) “collected” Baartman in 1810 Offered Baartman to Bullock, collector and later proprietor of Egyptian Hall Sold to Hendrick Cezar, a showman in London Cezar sold Baartman to animal trainer S. Reaux in Paris in 1814 Upon her death in 1815, French scientist George Cuvier examined and later performed an autopsy, exhibiting Baartman at Muséum de l’Histoire Naturelle, (later to become Musée de l’Homme)

4 Human Performance – Ethnological Display
Emancipation of English slaves in 1807 “Her color may have placed her in a minority, but it did not immediately relegate her to the status of wholly alien” (Qureshi 2004, p. 240) Why do people find freak shows entertaining? What are some modern day freak shows? How did (do) anthropology and entertainment intersect?

5 Natural History Pornographic descriptions as scientific inquiry
Scientific interest in “Tablier” – extension of inner labia (hyper-trophied labia) and Steatopygia – excessive accumulation of fatty tissue Baartman posed for “Cuvier’s Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères” ( ) – only portrayal of humans in the work Qureshi describes this attention as “deeply disturbing, pornographic, and frankly, distastefully voyeuristic” (p. 243) George Cuvier

6 In Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères (Saint- Hilaire and Cuvier), “Instead of portraying a classical pose, the artist presents views framed similarly to the other mammalian species in the volume and which are analogous to the anterior and lateral profiles used in zoological illustration” (Querishi p. 241).

7 Unknown artist, Femme de race boschimanne, 1815, watercolor on vellum, from Etienne Geoffroy Saint Hilaire and Frédéric Cuvier, Histoire naturelle des mammiferès, Paris, 1819, Cop. Bibliothèque centrale M.N.H.N. Paris 1998

8 Modern Cultural Icon Historic obsession with Khoisan bodies
Baartmen’s body cast on display at the Musee de l’Homme until 2002 The “historically privileged position of museological space” (p. 247) “The display of Sara, and countless others like her, has shaped our identity, and although now hidden away, it continues to do so.” (p.248) Does the historic “network of suppliers” exist today? Body cast of Sara Baartman in the Musée de l’Homme

9 Artistic Interventions See Post-Colonial Performance and Installation Art “Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit…” by Cococ Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Pena, 1992). See Quershi reading pp Also James Luna’s performance “The Artifact Piece”, 1987. Luna first performed The Artifact Piece at the Museum of Man in San Diego, California, in Copyright San Diego Museum of Man

10 For the exhibition Mirage: Enigmas of Race, Difference and Desire (1995),  Lyle Ashton Harris in collaboration with Renee Valerie Cox created the photograph, "Venus Hottentot 2000."  In this futuristic reinterpretation of the Hottentot Venus, Renee Valerie Cox directly inserts her own body into the historical matrix of Western representations that configured black female sexuality.  In the photograph Cox's body is transformed, recalling the Hottentot Venus, with the addition of protruding metallic breasts and an accompanying metal butt extension.  The white strings that delicately hold these metallic body parts in place with bow, seem to emphasize the artists' complex and ambivalent relationships to representations of black female sexuality.  Cox wears the metallic appendages like a costume or disguise, but her own nude body is simultaneously revealed to the viewer.  She stands in profile emphasizing her bodily dimensions, hands akimbo, and stares directly at the viewer. Lyle Ashton Harris and Renee Valerie Cox: "Hottentot Venus 2000"

11 Querishi against “ahistorically reifying her to support political agendas”
“The power of Sarah Baartman’s tale depends upon the level of inhumanity she has suffered; if this is to be directed honestly in her politicization we need to historicize it, and recognize that it is, in many senses, unexceptional.” (251)

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