Collecting New Media

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11 April
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Hottentot Venus

After reading the Gould article, I wanted to know how the story ended. Was Sarah Baartman’s remains still featured in a private musuem to this day; was she ever laid to rest? How did the general public feel about this display? Was it only acceptable because of the time period, or do curators still justify keeping these remains today? So I started off by wiki’ing the story and I learned a couple of new details that were not laid out in the article. Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman was a woman featured in the 19th century freak shows under the alias hotentotvenus. Sarah Bartman was originally from the Eastern cape of South Africa. She was a slave in England until the brother of her owner convinced her to tour in England as a part of the freak show by promising her fame and wealth .Sarah was featured in the freak show to display her unusually large buttocks and elongated labia. Woman of the tribe Sarah was born to were known to also have elongated labias. Sarah chose not to put this feature of hers on display for the freak show. Sarah stated that she was aware that she could be freed from work at anytime, and that she understood that half of the profits from the shows belonged to her. After her stint in Europe she was bought by a French man who had her pose nude for paintings. Afterward Sarah began to drink heavily and prostitute to support herself. After her death her skeleton, genitals, and brain were preserved and put on display at a museum in Paris. It was then taken down from public display and a molding cast replaced it for 2 years. There were a number of calls for the return of Sarah’s remains starting in 1940 but the push really began after an article written on the matter by Stephen Gould. Finally after President Nelson Mandela requested her remains be returned back to her home county, the request was fulfilled in 2002. I was in disbelief to hear that Sarah’s remains were not released for a proper burial until about 10 years ago. I would think that as time passed and social norms transformed, there would be no argument to keep these remains on display. In class an argument was presented that “just because an artifact is heinous, or shows a part of history that is now seen as a source of embarrassment, it does not mean that this artifact should be hidden or forgotten about. I understood this argument because I feel like all history should be shared, regardless of the moods that it evokes, because we should all be able to learn from the events that have happened in the past. However I would like to make the argument that unless someone gives permission for their genitals to be displayed, they should not be. I feel that Sarah explicitly did not want to feature this part of herself when she was alive, and that she would never have wanted it featured in her death.

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