Staging the Body of the (M)other: The “Hottentot Venus” and the “Wild Dancing Bushman”



For many years, Sarah Bartmann, cast as the infamous “Hottentot Venus,” symbolized nineteenth-century European discourse on scientific racism and its blithe fascination with the sexualized body of the Other, especially with regard to the positioning of Khoesan genitalia. More recently, Sarah Bartmann gained fame not only as a symbolic subject of African exile and exploitation, but moreover as a South African icon of nation building and national healing. On December 15, 1995, Dr. Ben Ngubane, then South African minister of arts, culture, science and technology, released a statement to the press in which he claimed that “the return of Saartjie Baartman for a decent burial that a human being deserves would contribute to the collective sense of pride and dignity of all South Africans” (1999, 112). The subsequent funeral in 2002, described by Meg Samuelson as a “spectacle of nation building” recast Sarah Bartmann, already an iconic symbol of the exploited and dispossessed Khoesan, as a national figure of healing and homecoming, as her body “traversed… the imperial stage of the early nineteenth century to the nation-building theatre of the transitional era” (2007, 85).


Female Body Sexualized Object Nation Building Sexualized Body South African Minister 
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    Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1985).Google Scholar

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© Natasha Gordon-Chipembere 2011

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