Black Venus 2010

They Called Her "Hottentot"

Edited by Deborah Willis
Susan Koppelman Award for the Best Edited Volume in Women's Studies by the Popular Culture/American Culture Association, 2011
Book Cover

PB: $38.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-0205-9
Publication: Jan 10

HC: $86.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-0204-2
Publication: Jan 10

Ebook: $38.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-0206-6
Publication: Jan 10

288 pages
7 x 10
42 duotones

Analyzing contemporaneous and contemporary works that re-imagine the “Hottentot Venus”

Read the Introduction (pdf).


As a young South African woman of about 20, Saartjie Baartman, the so-called “Hottentot Venus,” was brought to London and placed on exhibit in 1810. Clad in the Victorian equivalent of a body stocking and paraded through the streets and on stage in a cage, she became a human spectacle in London and Paris. Baartman’s distinctive physique became the object of ridicule, curiosity, scientific inquiry, and desire until and after her premature death. The figure of Saartjie Baartman was reduced to her sexual parts.

Black Venus 2010 traces Baartman’s memory in our collective histories, as well as her symbolic history in the construction and identity of black women as artists, performers, and icons. The wide-ranging essays, poems, and images in Black Venus 2010 represent some of the most compelling responses to Baartman. Each one grapples with the enduring legacy of this young African woman who forever remains a touchstone for black women.

Contributors include: Elizabeth Alexander, Holly Bass, Petrushka A. Bazin, William Jelani Cobb, Lisa Gail Collins, Renée Cox, J. Yolande Daniels, Carole Boyce Davies, Leon de Wailly, Manthia Diawara, Diana Ferrus, Cheryl Finley, Nikky Finney, Kianga K. Ford, Terri Francis, Sander Gilman, Renée Green, Joy Gregory, Lyle Ashton Harris, Michael D. Harris, Linda Susan Jackson, Kellie Jones, Roshini Kempadoo, Simone Leigh, Zine Magubane, E. Ethelbert Miller, Robin Mitchell, Charmaine Nelson, Tracey Rose, Radcliffe Roye, Bernadette Searle, Lorna Simpson, Debra S. Singer, Penny Siopis, Hank Willis Thomas, Kara Walker, Michele Wallace, Carla Williams, Carrie Mae Weems, J. T. Zealy, and the editor.


"Deborah Willis has used the photograph as a way of introducing memory in a provocative way. As a photographer and educator, she has created a new voice in this field and also introduced new approaches to critiquing the black woman's experience through photography and literature. Black Venus 2010 is an important book, a significant one, which will highlight a revised visual history of black women—not only of Sarah Baartman but of other women in America and throughout the African diaspora. The images are compelling, the descriptions are engaging and accessible, and the essays and prose represent an innovative mix of analysis and cultural history. The quality and character of this collection are distinctive."
Dr. Isolde Brielmaier, Vassar College

"Willis (Posing Beauty) offers a comprehensive, inclusive, and coherently organized anthology that embraces 'scholarly and lyrical, historical and reflexive' responses to Baartman, as a woman, as a black woman, as an object, as an icon, as an inspiration to creative artists, and as a catalyst to scholars. The book moves from Baartman's life and times to an assessment of the figure of the “Hottentot Venus” in contemporary art and a broader consideration of the historic public display of black women. Appended is a photo gallery that is as essential and diverse as the texts. This remarkable volume satisfies the academic reader with scholarly essays and moves the general reader with its creative expression, making it fascinating and accessible to any one."
Publishers Weekly

"Consisting of scholarly essays, poetical works, roundtable discussions, fictional reimaginings and historiographical research, Deborah Willis' outstanding edited collection, Black Venus 2010 is a radical tour de force... An invaluable addition to scholarship, Willis's (book) showcases a breathtaking array of forms and approaches to investigate Sarah Baartman's proliferating social, political aesthetic and historical identities."
The International Review of African American Art

"Black Venus 2010 is a necessary and much-anticipated academic reader.... Willis's fascinating collection challenges us to continue to read Baartman's many iterations and forever contemplate how an ordinary black woman with an ample behind rocked the foundation of a nation."
African American Review

"Willis has compiled a truly interdisciplinary analysis of the life and image of Sarah Baartman, the so-called 'Hottentot Venus.'... (The) inclusion of poetry and visual art provides an added metaphysical dimension that complements the scholarly articles in this book."
American Studies

Table of Contents

Prologue: The Venus Hottentot (1825) Elizabeth Alexander
Introduction: The Notion of Venus Deborah Willis

PART I: Sarah Baartman in Context
1. The Hottentot and the Prostitute: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality Sander Gilman
2. Another Means of Understanding the Gaze: Sarah Bartmann in the Development of Nineteenth-Century French National Identity Robin Mitchell
3. Which Bodies Matter? Feminism, Post-Structuralism, Race, and the Curious Theoretical Odyssey of the “Hottentot Venus” Zine Magubane
4. Exhibit A: Private Life without a Narrative J. Yolande Daniels
5. crucifix Holly Bass

PART II: Sarah Baartman’s Legacy in Art and Art History
6. Historic Retrievals: Confronting Visual Evidence and the Imaging of Truth Lisa Gail Collins
7. Reclaiming Venus: The Presence of Sarah Bartmann in Contemporary Art Debra S. Singer
8. Playing with Venus: Black Women Artists and the Venus Trope in Contemporary Visual Art Kianga K. Ford
9. Talk of the Town Manthia Diawara
10. The “Hottentot Venus” in Canada: Modernism, Censorship, and the Racial Limits of Female Sexuality Charmaine Nelson
11. A.K.A. Saartjie: The “Hottentot Venus” in Context (Some Recollections and a Dialogue), 1998/2004 Kellie Jones
12. little sarah Linda Susan Jackson

PART III: Sarah Baartman and Black Women as Public Spectacle
13. The Greatest Show on Earth: For Saartjie Baartman, Joice Heth, Anarcha of Alabama, Truuginini, and Us All Nikky Finney
14. The Imperial Gaze: Venus Hottentot, Human Display, and World’s Fairs Michele Wallace
15. Cinderella Tours Europe Cheryl Finley
16. Mirror Sisters: Aunt Jemima as the Antonym/Extension of Saartjie Bartmann Michael D. Harris
17. My Wife as Venus E. Ethelbert Miller

PART IV: Iconic Women in the Twentieth Century
18. agape Holly Bass
19. Black/Female/Bodies Carnivalized in Spectacle and Space Carole Boyce Davies
20. Sighting the “Real” Josephine Baker: Methods and Issues of Black Star Studies Terri Francis
21. The Hoodrat Theory William Jelani Cobb

Epilogue: I’ve Come to Take You Home (Tribute to Sarah Bartmann Written in Holland, June 1998)

About the Author(s)

Deborah Willis is a University Professor and chair of the Photography and Imaging Department in the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. She has an affiliated appointment with the College of Arts and Sciences. Willis is a Guggenheim, Fletcher, and MacArthur Fellow, as well as a recipient of the Anonymous Was a Woman Foundation award. Willis is a photographer and curator of African American culture. Her publications include Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs, The Black Female Body A Photographic History with Carla Williams (Temple); and Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present.