Georgian England was a nation infatuated with the rear side of women. The society at that time was obsessed with the notion of a bum, arses, derrieres and anything even slightly referring to Bigger buttocks. This is the main reason why Sarah Baartman or Black Venus as she was called became famous and popular.
Exhibiting people of color was a tradition of the Western societies from the time they had come across the indigenous populations of Africa and the New World. Even Columbus from his return from the New World brought several Arawaks to the court of Queen Isabella in Spain. One of them was kept for display for two years in the court. Exhibiting humans that had non-white complexion reached its height in Europe and USA both in the form of “freak shows”, where “savages”, “freaks” and “natives” were exhibited like animals.
Human exhibition was a very profitable industry at that time. Natives were supposed to perform rites, rituals and their own ceremonies in front of audiences or they went about doing their daily chores while a number of people saw the whole thing as a spectacle.
Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman was brought from her native town in South Africa near Cape Town. She was from the Khoisan tribe. No one is completely aware of her real name as she was called with different names, the most renowned of which was “Hottentot Venus”. Hottentot in the modern days is considered as a deeply racist and offensive term, was then used for the people of the Khoi. Even the name “Saartjie” given to her by her own people is a diminutive of her birth name. She later became known as Venus Black or Venus Noire. The story of Sarah Baartman is very fascinating yet tragic. She was actually tricked by the brother of her Dutch master to travel to London to acquire wealth and fortune. It was when she came to London in 1810 that she knew the true intentions of Hendrick Cezar’s, the brother of her master. But it was too late for her and she never returned to her native homeland.
Because of her peculiar body parts, mainly her large derriere and extended labia minora, she was exhibited as a unique specimen of the human race to the crowds of England and France for the period of five years. The public was avidly fascinated by her large buttocks in particular. She was displayed as a specimen without any clothes on so that people could inspect her thoroughly.
After three years in England she was bought by a Frenchman who was an animal trainer. Here Baartman was kept in disgraceful and dreadful conditions. She was exhibited under animalistic and sexual conditions for a period of two years. When the public fascination of her body died down, she was dissolved in darkness. Baartman started drinking copiously and went in the business of prostitution for supporting herself.
After she died at the age of 26, due to various ailments, her body was dissected by some “pseudo scientists” who wanted to study female sexuality in the black women. They claimed that by studying her genitalia they can come up with answers for the appetite of sex in native black women. Her genitalia was also preserved and kept as a display at the National History of Museum in France. President Nelson Mandela requested the French government in 1996 to hand over Baartman’s remains so that they could be buried properly in her homeland. The French government fought over them for six years, before relenting, finally Sarah’s remains were properly buried in 2002 – 200 years after her death.