Sara Baartman

Between Worlds 

In contrast to other stories told in this exhibition, that of Sara (Saartjie) Baartman's time in London in 1810 is as horrifying to modern sensibilities as it was to some of her contemporaries. Baartman (1789-1815) was a Khoisan who was brought over from South Africa to be put on public display in Piccadilly under the title of the 'Hottentot Venus' because of what was described as 'the enormous size of her posterior parts'. This also made her the focus of ribaldry, and the subject of many caricature prints. Anti-slavery campaigners challenged her exhibition in court on the grounds that she was 'exhibited for money against her consent'. She, however, insisted during court proceedings that she was willing to be displayed and that she had signed a contract.

She appears to have toured the country and was recorded as having visited Manchester. In 1814, Baartman went to Paris where she was displayed and also became the subject of caricatures. She also attracted the attention of Georges Cuvier, the anatomist famous for comparing racial types, who was interested in her as a supposed example of the most primitive form of humanity.

Baartman was studied intensively by anatomists and artists and, following her death at the age of 27 in December 1815, she was dissected by Cuvier. Parts of her anatomy were displayed in what was to become the Musée de l'Homme in Paris and remained on show until the 1960s. Her remains were finally returned for burial to South Africa in 2002.

Four Kings | William Ansah Sessarakoo| Mai| Joseph Brant| Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne| Sake Dean Mahomed| Sara Baartman| Raja Rammohun Roy| Maharaja Dalip Singh

'Femme de race Bochismann' (detail) after de Wailly, Geoffrey-Saint-Hilaire and Frédéric Cuvier, 1824 Coloured lithograph, 290 x 490mm - © The British Library

'Femme de race Bochismann' (detail)
after de Wailly, Geoffrey-Saint-Hilaire and Frédéric Cuvier, 1824
Coloured lithograph, 290 x 490mm
© The British Library

Poster announcing the appearance of Sarah Baartman, 1811 Letterpress, 490 x 290mm - © The British Library

Poster announcing the appearance of Sarah Baartman, 1811
Letterpress, 490 x 290mm
© The British Library