Exploring #2 : Saartje Baartman and Mara Verna’s Hottentot Venus project

Looking around for female porn movie directors with feminist or queer politics aspirations, I came across Venus Hottentot, the director named after Saartje Baartman, known as Hottentot Venus while she was exhibited around Europe, during and after her life. I remembered first reading about this African woman’s violated body in Anne Balsamo’s ‘Technologies of the Gendered Body’ in Lucia Sommer’s ‘In/ Visible Body: Notes on Biotechnologies’ Vision’ in SUBROSA’s Domain Errors (2002), where she talks about new visualisation technologies and the fragmentation of the female body [about the Visible Human (TM) in particular]. Mara Verna, a Canadian  performance artist, set up an web exhibition based on her research about Baartman’s body and her remains being exposed in museums – to be finally returned to her home land 200 years after Baartman’s birth.

‘On location in South Africa and France this past year, artist Mara Verna presents the culmination of her work surrounding this historical figure through the site http://www.hottentotvenus.com This work is in association with a travelling exhibition entitled, Rien n’a ete perdu, which opened in Paris in November 2002 (La Vtirine Gallery) and at La Centrale Gallery in Montreal, in February 2003’ (Festival de Cyberart: Circulation 01,2001-2).

What is here intersting to see is how a female porn director appropriates a name which carries such a tremendous amount of violence, not just at a symbolic level, but on a material level (this is the name of a slave exhibited for her labia and buttocks, and then the name of a someone whose dismembered labia, brain and skeleton were exhibited). Venus, I read, who is an art school graduate, directed Candida Royalle’s first ‘Femme Chocolat’ film, Afrodite Superstar, which I am most curious to see – is this an empowering film? is it perpetuating the objectification of Baartman’s, and black womens’, sexuality (sexuality as linked to corporeality ofcourse and not meaning the act of making sex but the whole lot of eroticism and desire). And how can we think of these different approaches to representing and claiming back?

The director herself says: My attempt is to reclaim her sexual voice, and the voice of all of us. Even though women of color are over-sexualized in our society, our own voice is absent’.

art school grad

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