“The Venus Hottentot Is Unavailable for Comment”: Questioning the Politics of Representation Through Aesthetic Practices

  • Jorunn Gjerden
  • Kari Jegerstedt
  • Željka Švrljuga
Part of the Citizenship, Gender and Diversity book series (FEMCIT)


The worldwide interest in the historical figure of The Hottentot Venus (aka Sara Baartman) attests to the desire to rework colonial configurations of “black woman” to open more inclusive and egalitarian notions of citizenship and democracy in a postcolonial world. But how can contemporary practices revise the nineteenth century’s objectifying gaze on The Hottentot Venus without simply repeating it? Can attempts to render voice and point of view to her result in anything but new reductive representations? Can aesthetic practices help problematize and disrupt not only hegemonic representations but also the systems of representation as such, in ways that effectively undermine dominant power structures?

Inspired by Spivak’s assertion that “the figure of woman is pervasively instrumental in the shifting of the function of discursive systems”, this chapter investigates three art fictions—the French film Vénus noire (Abdellatif Kechiche), the American play Venus (Suzan Lori-Parks), and the South African novel Davids Story (Zoë Wicomb)—that seek to circumvent the pitfalls of “speaking for” and “speaking about” the other by offering provisional and partial solutions, always in need of subsequent revisions. The texts work to supplement representation through aesthetic practices such as opacity, re-cycling, and subtraction, thus offering alternative visions in which “(black) woman” is not necessarily re-figured in (new) gendered and racialized discourses, but pre-figures the possibility of alternative modes of citizenship.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jorunn Gjerden
    • 1
  • Kari Jegerstedt
    • 2
  • Željka Švrljuga
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Foreign LanguagesUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  2. 2.Centre for Women and Gender ResearchUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  3. 3.Department of Foreign LanguagesUniversity of BergenBergenNorway

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