Monday, March 9, 2009

Calling All Women Visual Artists, Dancers, Poets, Singers & Musicians!

The Saartjie Project is proud to present its first benefit showcase which will celebrate the homecoming of its muse Saartjie Baartman.


Born in 1789 into the Griqua tribe of South Africa's eastern Cape, the Khoisan woman was orphaned in an early raid and was later baptized Saartjie Baartman (her name means "little Sarah" in Afrikaans). She was working for a local farmer near Cape Town, South Africa when her physical appearance attracted the attention of a visiting ship's surgeon, William Dunlop.

Saartjie's enlarged buttocks and oversized labia intrigued Dunlop and he suggested that he take her to England to be studied. Arriving in England in 1810, Saartjie was examined by some of the leading anatomists of the time. Her unusual genital condition was formally termed the "Hottentot apron" (Hottentot being an archaic name for Khoisan). Seen by the public as nothing more than a sexual freak, she was placed on public display in Piccadilly and quickly dubbed the "Hottentot Venus". According to contemporary accounts, Saartjie was often "exhibited like a wild beast" (usually in a cage) and forced to parade almost naked before gawking audiences. Many spectators poked her with sticks to ensure that she was "all real" and she was often left in tears due to the pain and humiliation.

At some point, Dunlop and Cezar dropped out of the picture and Saartjie became the property of an animal handler named Reaux. Her showings in Paris were as popular as they had been in London and she was examined by many French anatomists, including Georges Cuvier. Numerous scientific papers were written about the "Hottentot Venus" that emphasized prevailing notions of racial superiority. Saartjie died on January 1, 1816 (probably of pneumonia) but the exploitation didn't end with her death. Her body was dissected by Georges Cuvier and a wax replica of her body was made. Saartjie's skeleton,brain and genitalia went on exhibit in Paris' Musee de l'Homme and remained there until 1974 when they were finally removed from public view.

Over the years, there were repeated pleas for the return to Saartjie's remains to South Africa but interest in the case intensified after Stephen Jay Gould wrote an article on her in 1985. Finally, following pressure from the South African government and debates in France's National Assembly, permission to return the remains was given in 2002. On May 6 of that year, Saartjie Baartman's remains were returned to South Africa and, in a moving ceremony, she was laid to rest on August 9 (National Women's Day in South Africa) in the Gamtoos River valley of the Eastern Cape.

The Saartjie Project, an artist collective based in the United States in Washington DC, debuted a stage performance in 2008 inspired by the life of Saartjie Baartman. Since the August 2008 premiere performance, The Saartjie Project has performed in sold out shows extending into 2009. This year, the collective is scheduled to perform in upcoming venues including the Capital Fringe Fest held in the nation's capital and The Theatre for the Oppressed Conference in Minneapolis.

To celebrate the anniversary of Saartjie's homecoming to South Africa and to support the growing programs and performances soon-to-be implemented, The Saartjie Project is pleased to put out a call for female artists-- visual & performing-- to participate in a benefit concert to be held on Saturday, May 2, 2009 at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW) in Washington DC.

Email a link to your work and a bio to for consideration. Deadline to submit your work for consideration is April 1, 2009.

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