Table of Contents
In the book, “Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and Biography,” Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully narrate an exploitation story of Sara Baartman, especially her life and experience from 1789 to 1815. Baartman, a Khoekhoe woman, who was born in the presently known South Africa, was enslaved and taken to England in order to be exhibited. This was to be either by being watched while walking, singing, or turning around on the London stage. In so doing, some of the spectators could even use their walking sticks to poke her body. Consequently, the idea by Baartman was also examined by these people thereby handing her the name Hottentot Venus, a well known name through Europe. While this name was associated with hyper-sexuality and immodesty, what is essential especially to this paper is how authors; Hansen and Curtis, in their book, “Voyages in World History, Chapter 21” discusses the links between advances in science and transfer and display of Hottentot Venus from South Africa to London to Paris.
According to Hansen and Curtis, the scientific revolution, especially in Europe, resulted into a great optimistic environment. By Newton illustrating the rational and orderly nature of the universe, the authors established that it inspired the view that science could accurately describe the natural characteristic of the world as well as enhancing the purpose of human nature. In so doing, advances in science has helped in the development of a system of classification that has made it possible for the application of practical science that was evident during this time of European imperial expansion. It is this kind of advancement in science that played a significant role especially in the transfer and display of Hottentot Venus from South Africa to London then to Paris.
The advancement of science as discussed by Hansen and Curtis over determined anatomy thereby assumed the persona of Sara Baartman, a black female body, to an extent of becoming a representation of itself. As a result, these indigenous people were only depicted as facilitating subjugation. Crais and Scully in outlining and describing the true life and performance life of Baartman established her as the subject of the book as well as the object of Western scientific discourse. During colonial time, people like Baartman were characterized and linked to hierarchy between apes and human nature. As a result, their images were connected to cannibalism. In addition, Baartman, just like flora and fauna, was depicted as a commodity that is collected and displayed for public entertainment.
Sara Baartman arrived at the London destined for display as object that represented colonial expansion and means of economic gain. Her exhibition and ultimate body dissection after her death displayed her body as erotic and propagandistic and assumed her persona that had been transformed by Europe. In so doing, Baartman’s body representation, based on scientific advancement, has helped in understanding the collective perception that surrounds the physical appearance of a black female. This has enhanced the purpose of human nature for which Baartman’s body was being transferred and displayed.
In account of Hansen and Curtis, the connectivity between practical science and European imperialism led to the advancement of science towards global dimension. By this, it means that during imperialism period, European nations were engaged in mapping great projects and surveying expeditions not because of their curiosity about Africa and India among others states, but because of their disinterested scientific knowledge. The accumulation of such knowledge motivated their exploration activities. This formed the basis of caging human beings, transferring, and displaying them as objects that enhance imperialism. By practically expanding their geographic knowledge and accumulating essential information concerning indigenous societies where Sara Baartman came from, the European nations were advancing their imperial ambitions.
For instance, Alexander Dunlop, British Army medical officer persuaded Hendrik Cesars, Baartman’s free black man capture that Sara’s body was potentially lucrative in entertainment as well as for scientific curiosity in England. In so doing, the agitation for scientific curiosity was the start of corporeal exploration that enhanced the thriving stage trade in human as was the case of Baartman.
However, the link between science and imperialism and its influence on western art is accurately captured by Crais and Scully, but not Hansen and Curtis. According to Crais and Scully, Baartman’s image was depicted both in scientific and anatomical drawings, sculptures, playbills, and paintings. Her image was the subject of works that typified the London life and the Napoleon era. As a result, the anatomy of Baartman’s body was used as an inspiration especially during the Matisse’s revolution in restructuring the female body. For instance, ‘steatopygous’ was concocted in describing the behinds of Khoisan women such as Baartman which was also incorporated in various cartoon films produced.
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Moreover, Crais and Curtis note that the reason why countries came into contact with science through imperialist expansion was to better assist in helping the indigenous societies especially in Africa. These indigenous people, including Baartman, had no developed language, were uncivilized, and more so incapable of enhancing any religion. Therefore, while the agricultural relevance of botanical knowledge helped in enhancing national interest, the caged animals provided the public with entertainment that showed the successfulness of imperialism. It is in this regard that missionaries often displayed converted people as an evidence of the benefits of spreading their civilization. In essence, the authors believe that the need for scientific advancement and imperial expansion was essential for the civilization of African societies as well as desirable for the African nations.
In conclusion, advancement of science and imperial expansion have been highlighted as major contributors that led to the exploitation of African women especially Sara Baartman during the colonial era. Therefore, it is imperative for scientist not to use their scientific curiosity in undermining or stereotyping human nature, but rather, to enhance their existence. This would ensure that science is used as a revolutionary tool in eliminating factors that suppress human freedom and existence.