3 things you should know about Saartjie Baartman, Beyonce’s new subject of interest

Beyonce, the American singer, songwriter and actress, reportedly has her sights set on the prestigious Academy Award and in order to bag it, she has decided to write and star in her own movie. It was announced that her movie will be about Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman who was put on display in London the 1800s because of white European scientists fascination with her posterior.

While Beyonce has hired a couple of writers and acting coaches to bring the story to the big screen, here are some things you should know about Baartman, whose legacy has been the subject of many artistic explorations of race, sexuality and gender.

Her birth and slavery

Sara ‘Saartjie’ Baartman was born in 1749, in South Africa and was from the Khoikhoi ethnic tribe. Barely in her 20’s, she was sold to London by Alexander Dunlop and Hendrik Cezar. When she got to London, she became the object of fascination due to her unusually large backside which was peculiar to Khoisian women. English men and women paid to see Baartman’s half naked body on display in a cage.

Hottentot Venus

After four years in London, Saartjie was transported by Cezar from England to France and upon their arrival, she was sold by her captor to Reaux, an animal exhibitor.  In Reaux’s possession, Saartjie was subjected to humiliating exhibitions with a baby rhinoceros. She was displayed in near nudity, allowed only to wear a loincloth. It was in France that she was nicknamed ‘Hottentot Venus’ in reference to her homeland and the Roman goddess of love, Venus.

Baartman was also used as a live specimen by a naturalist, George Cuvier and many other scientists. Cuvier concluded that she was a link between animals and human and likened her to an orangutan; Cuvier’s scientific exploration centered around trying to prove that Africans were of of an inferior race, and this was done through the construction of abnormal sexuality and physicality.

Death and legacy

Saartjie Baartman died in 1816 at the age of 26, and even though the cause of her death was not certain, Cuvier collected her corpse from the police and dissected it. He separated her brain and genitals, placed them in jars and put them on display at the Museum of Man until 1974. In 1994, President Nelson Mandela requested that the French government return the remains of Baartman to South Africa. However, it was not released until 8 years after. She was finally buried on the 9th of August, 2002 at Hankey in the Eastern Cape Province.

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