Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

This is Art??? Have a Piece of Venus Hottentot Cake for World Arts Day

A few months ago a grave spectacle of so-called art took place in Sweden where a cake of an African-American woman’s body (created by a Afro-Swedish man) was cut by the Swedish minister of “culture”, while those in the room cheered and laughed. What is shocking about this is that the cake was created to look like a black face caricature of a Black woman and the cake was cut where the reproductive organs would be.  This cake is known as the “Venus Hottentot Cake”.

Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman, a slave, became known as “Venus Hottentot” and was taken to Europe to have her body exhibited. She was sometimes kept as an animal in a zoo and the cake looked like a caricature of her likeness. This was not art but a barbaric reenactment of female genital mutilation and yet another example of how the Black woman’s womb is under attack.

I have written about the high incidents of fibroids among Black women and though diet plays a great role in this health crisis, stress, psycho-social and spiritual issues also play a role in reproductive heath. Though we may feel that all is well and that  we are seen as fully human, a quick look around in the media, music and now art shows that the Black woman’s sexuality is still being used to sell everything and her womb is still being exploited. Sadly this art was created by an African-Swedish man who has made weak attempts to address the criticism of this art “exhibit” Dr. Claudette Carrwrote an open letter from African Women to the Minister Of Cultureto address this travesty.   In the letter Dr. Carr states:

Internalized racism has been one of the primary means by which we are constantly forced to perpetuate and collude in our own oppression and the oppression of others of our race. In the case of the “Venus Hottentot Cake”, equally devastating is that the artist Makode Aj Linde is Afro-Swedish. His own head adorned with long locks forms that of the naked Black woman in the cake, lying motionless on a table in a room surrounded by a laughing crowd. Not one Black woman, not one Black person in the room, except the artist and his cake. Makode Aj Linde is seen with a blackened face screaming with pain each time a Swedish guest cuts a slice from the cake. We are horrified as we try to make sense of this artist’s actions and we are perplexed by his explanation of the art as an awareness raising piece on the “practice of female genital mutilation” in certain African communities, or a practice that many African women’s rights defenders have come to rename female genital cutting (FGC). The moment that cake was presented; the moment that cake was eaten; the moment that cake caused joy and excitement, re-opening the marvel that white Europeans felt at exploiting African women’s bodies—specifically, the sexualized celebration, the entrapment, the cutting of the genitalia of the Sara Baartman -like black body, the ethics of the artist comes into serious question, even if not the art itself, for the sake of “art”, for the sake of non-censorship. Racism was propped up in its ugliest form, facilitated by a Black artist and perpetuated on the representation of the body of a Black female.”

This incident not only brings up  the history of “Venus Hottentot” but the history of western medicine where Black women were mutilated for gynecological “research”, this history is recounted in by Harriet A. Washington, “Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present”. Though we should be outraged by the Swedish Minister of Culture we  also have to interrogate how a man of African descent could create and facilitate this for his “art”. If we are going to to attack rappers for calling Black women bitches and hoes we have to critique all artist and men who disrespect Black women. We also have to teach Black women the history of how our bodies were exploited so that they do not willingly sign-up to be modern day Venus Hottentots in music videos or magazines. Sarah “Sarrtjie” Baartman was promised wealth and fame for traveling to Europe but she was not told of the exploitation that faced her. Today many of our video models and musicians are promised wealth for exploiting their bodies but most often this wealth and fame are  just smoke screen and mirrors and the cycle continues.

This is an example of what  can happen when art is created devoid of spirituality, social responsibility and cultural sensitivity but it also an example of the ways in which these  scripts of racism, sexism, internalized racial oppression and disrespect of Black womanhood are deeply embedded into our culture on conscious and subconscious levels. As much as things appear to have changed they have stayed the same and if we are not conscious we can all play into the scripts that have been laid out by this racist culture.

Share This Post

2 Responses to This is Art??? Have a Piece of Venus Hottentot Cake for World Arts Day

  1. Derrick Reply

    June 20, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    This is the real OURSTORY of Hottentot:

    Exploring the Myth of the Hottentot The sexuality of the black woman has been constructed in society in opposition to that of the white woman. This objectification of the non-white body in Western culture has created a binary detrimental to both black and white women. The construction of the black female body as a vehicle of uncontrollable sexual desire has led many black feminists to promote a complete silence concerning their sexuality.

    These women have sought to erase the negative connotations surrounding black women as sexually predatory. However, they only lose their forum to discuss their sexuality as a positive force of empowerment. This binary which exists between the black woman as sexual being and the white woman as (non) sexual being finds its roots deep in history, perpetuated by strict Victorian sexual ideologies. The extent to which the European colonizers went to fetishize the African body, particularly the African female body, reached a point at which these bodies were exhibited in cages, and therefore, made to be almost relegated to subhuman, or animal status. One of the most unsettling and prevailing of these images is that of the African woman Saarjie Baartmann, known throughout the world as the “Hottentot Venus”.

    The Hottentot Venus serves as an example of the lowest depths of human cruelty. The oppression and exploitation of black women’s bodies and sexuality created a binary that still exists today. Starting with the early imperialism in Europe, racist ideologies were already being developed. In the Victorian age, the white woman of the upper-classes became the “ideal” from which all others became measured and inferiorized.

    Black women became symbolic of the corrupt and sexually immoral as juxtaposed to the white women’s image as virtuous, clean, and virginal. However, it is interesting to note that the hard-up white European patriarchal society seemed to have an almost taboo, perverse fascination with the very black woman’s body which they were supposed to see as dirty and spoiled. The construction of the black female as the very embodiment of sex led to the need for the European colonization of her. This led to the view of the black female as sexual animal in need of a “taming” by the leash of European mores. This was accomplished by exploiting and dehumanizing the black female body, as was the case of Saarjie Baartmann.

    The “Hottentot Venus” was exhibited in Europe as a fascinating attraction on the entertainment circuit. The European audiences came to gawk in awe at Baartmaan’s body, and what separated it from their own-primarily her buttocks and genitalia. Her body was compared with the bodies of animals, granting further objectification of the black woman’s body as ravenous, primitive, and sexually uncontrollable. Baartmaan’s being kept in a cage for the pleasure and fascination of the audience served to further the audience’s association between black women and animals. Even after Baartmaan’s death, the European anatomist George Cuvier who had endlessly prodded at her while she was alive, received permission to dissect her, as if she were a science project.

    Cuvier inspected her genitals, inside and out, refusing any part of her the chance of privacy, even in death. The story of the Hottentot Venus is sad, but what is even more tragic is the way this myth of the black female body has remained in society for so long. Looking at the example of the “Hottentot Venus”, it becomes clear that the construction of black female sexuality has been one based on the white, patriarchal European perception. The Hottentot was placed on display to satisfy the curiosity of the masses, who used her and her body as a point of departure from their idealized, virginal white woman’s body. In order to destroy this oppressive binary and the subsequent vision of black female sexuality as unrestrained and dangerous, black feminists have used the weapon of silence.

    This tactic of resistance to the outside construction of their sexuality did, to some extent, protect the black women; their silence separated them from the original model of black female sexuality-the Hottentot Venus. Sadly, though, this refusal to express their views on sexuality in an effort to deconstruct the Hottentot myth has cost black women a platform from which they can express their sexuality as a positive experience in their lives.

    Black women’s silence has remained, concerning sexuality-originally a defense against the objectification of the black woman’s body, it has become an unfortunate perpetuation of oppression. One needs only to look at the example of the Hottentot Venus. Through her, the European audience saw the black female as a body of sexual immorality, a caged creature displayed with no voice to speak, no mind to think, and no soul to feel. For if the audience would have seen these things, they would have been forced to see Saarjie Baartmann, not the Hottentot Venus, and any recognition of her as a human would have meant identification with her, and the subsequent realization of the depths of cruelty to which they had sunk.

    Therefore, black women’s choice of silence in regards to their sexuality only perpetuates the oppression and myth of the black woman as merely a body on display, with no mind, soul, voice, and freedom to express their sexuality as a tool of empowerment.

  2. LaBimmer Reply

    November 8, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Dear website developer:

    I like the information, but find it disturbing to use. What is with the logo on your page which appears inviting me to use tweeter, Facebook, and other social media devices when all I want to do is read the news items? Why are the frames which offer other stories always moving? When I try to access an item, the wrong story appears. I don’t get it!!! Can’t you correct this?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>