Weird History

The Sad, Strange Life Of Sarah Baartman

The brief, sad life of Sarah Baartman, also known as the “Hottentot Venus” – a moniker no longer in use due to its xenophobic origins – was fraught with blatant exploitation, racism, and abuse. A South African, Khoisan woman born in 1789, Baartman suffered much misfortune early in life when she was smuggled into England to perform in human exhibitions – or, as they were then called, freak shows

From there, Baartman became a sensation across the UK and France, performing scantily clad in a cage while the sheltered masses of Northern Europe gasped and prodded at her “unusual” physical proportions and unfamiliar skin color. Baartman was fetishized for her perceived exoticism to an otherworldly extent.

Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman's relevance as a symbol of developing race relations has only grown with passing years. As recently as 2014, Kim Kardashian’s “Break The Internet” cover for Paper Magazine received backlash from all sides, with many critics arguing that the cover directly evoked images of Baartman with its focus on Kardashian's prominent – and what some claim to be exaggerated – backside. Contemporary culture's ties to Baartman’s life call for a closer examination of a lesson that should have been learned long ago.