This series of prints made in 2005 took up the life of Sarah Baartman, a former slave who was toured to Britain and Europe, notoriously exhibited as a curiosity and specifically as the ‘Hottentot Venus’; she was dissected and displayed after her death in Paris in 1815.

Her story became a paradigm case of the voyeurism and racism of colonial culture and science, has been written about extensively, and became well-known to a broader public following the French agreement to repatriate her remains, in response to Nelson Mandela’s request, in 2002. A number have artists have produced work in response to Baartman’s history, but this series is of particular interest and importance. Marasela’s prints allude to the iconography of Baartman’s exhibition, but foreground a celebration of a life and its passages. By reworking even the moments of Baartman’s cruellest exploitation through her own graphic idiom, Marasela represents this story as one that belongs not to the critics and discourses of postcolonial theory, but to the imaginations (and critical imaginations) of South African women such as herself; Sarah becomes a precursor of those who experiences may not be notorious, but may have been marked by common traumas of exploitations and abuse. If appropriation and re-appropriation inevitably loom large in indigenous and postcolonial art, this is a re-appropriation that is not purely theoretical, but both subtle and profound. This acquisition was presented by the Art Fund and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation


The artist.

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

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