The significance of Sarah Baartman
This BBC article by Justin Parkinson describes the life and legacy of Sarah Baartman, a South African woman born in 1789 with protuberant buttocks. She was taken at a young age from her home in Eastern Cape and put on display in England to show off her unique body features, where she was highlighted as an example of ‘Africans similarity with apes’.
|article||10 minutes||JUSTIN PARKINSON||01-07-2016||https://www.bbc.com/|
|justin parkinson||2018-02-27 00:00:00 UTC|
This BBC article by Justin Parkinson describes the life and legacy of Sarah Baartman, a South African woman born in 1789. She was taken at a young age from her home in Eastern Cape and put on display in England to show off her unique body features, supposedly demonstrating the similarity of Africans with apes.
Baartman’s condition was known as steatopygia, and caused people to come to view her at the Piccadilly Circus and at viewing parties in private homes. During these shows, she was forced to dance, wear very little clothing and smoke a pipe. Though she was supposedly paid for these experiences, it is widely agreed she was also coerced and assaulted.
Parkinson writes that Baartman travelled to perform in Paris as well, where she was painted by artists and studied by scientists as an animal. During this time she went on tour with an animal exhibitor with a stage name and likely was coerced into prostitution.
Regarding her legacy, Parkinson quotes Natasha Gordon-Chipembere, a historian on Baartman, who writes that, "The domination of Africans was explained with the aid of science, thereby establishing the Khoisan ('the Hottentots') as the most ignoble group in the progression of mankind, purported to mate with the orangutan."
Baartman died in Europe at age 26 in 1815. Her remains were kept in a French museum until 2002 when they were transported back to South Africa under Nelson Mandela’s request.
In recent years films like “Black Venus” have portrayed the story of Baartman, showing the cruelty and the ignorance of the era. However, Parkinson points out that modern displays of beauty have mirrored drawings of Baartman. For example, images of Kim Kardashian and Carolina Beaumont showing their distinctly large buttocks have been immensely popular, but have been called into question because they resemble drawings of Baartman.
Display of Africans with unique features created objectification and subjugation thereby making it easier for Europeans to associate Africans as animals and justify treatment of them as slaves. Exhibits like this were seen by a surprisingly large number of people and were the main form of education on the subject of Africans and African way of life during the 1800’s in England.