gaze/Bodies/'other'/display/art that looks back Page courtesy of
Dr. Penelope Ironstone-Catterrall, York University


Saarjite Baartman/ The Hottentot Venus -- Gilray (?)


"Saarjite Baartman, a young Khosian woman from Southern Africa whose body was the main attraction at public spectacles in both England and France for over five years, is perhaps the most infamous case of a Khosian body on display. Baartman, who became known as the Hottentot Venus, was brought to Europe from Cape Town in 1810 by an English ship's surgeon who wished to publicly exhibit the woman's steatopygia, her enlarged buttocks. Her physique, particularly her steatopygic appendage, became the object of popular fascination when Baartman was exhibited naked in a cage at Piccadilly, England. When abolitionists mobilized to put an end Baartman's public display, she informed them that she participated in the spectacles of her own volition. She even shared in profits with her exhibitor."
-- recall, though, how the film we saw suggests 'volition' is a very difficult concept under the circumstances -- why?

"The history of human displays of people of color demonstrates that cultural difference and "otherness" were visually observed on the "native" body, whether in live human exhibitions or in dissected body parts on public display. Both forms of spectacle often served to promote Western colonial domination by configuring non-white cultures as being in need of discipline, civilization, and industry."  

For the exhibition Mirage: Enigmas of Race, Difference and Desire (1995), Lyle Ashton Harris in collaboration with Renee Valerie Cox created the photograph, "Venus Hottentot 2000."

For more information on Lyle Ashton Harris:

James Luna "Artifact Piece, 1985-87"


"James Luna often uses his body as a means to critique the objectification of Native American cultures in Western museum and cultural displays. He dramatically calls attention to the exhibition of Native American peoples and Native American cultural objects in his Artifact Piece, 1985-87. For the performance piece Luna donned a loincloth and lay motionless on a bed of sand in a glass museum exhibition case. Luna remained on exhibit for several days, among the Kumeyaay exhibits at the Museum of Man in San Diego. Labels surrounding the artist's body identified his name and commented on the scars on his body, attributing them to "excessive drinking." Two other cases in the exhibition contained Luna's personal documents and ceremonial items from the Luiseņo reservation."

Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Peņa. Undiscovered Amerindians, 1992.

According to Fusco, she and Gomez-Peņa aimed to conduct a "reverse ethnography . . . Our cage became a blank screen onto which audiences projected their fantasies of who and what we are. As we assumed the stereotypical role of the domesticated savage, many audience members felt entitled to assume the role of colonizer, only to find themselves uncomfortable with the implications of the game."

Renee Green: Revue 1990

"In the mixed media installation Revue, installation artist Renee Green combined several visual images and texts pertaining to the black female body: a small diminutive representation of the Hottentot Venus is centrally placed in the nstallation, surrounded by a series of photo-graphically manipulated images of Josephine Baker."

Photo of performance artist Joyce Scott, pictured here in a performance piece called Genetic Engineering.


"Quote from Joyce Scott on Women of Substance:
In an interview I conducted with Scott she said her aim in performance art is to seize "gross stereotypes and fuck with them." She explains, "There's a cesspool of stereotypes about looks, and I'm trying to put a new spin it ..." Scott recognizes that that her own physical appearance which she described as "a fat black woman with gappy teeth and wild hair," is reminiscent of "the stereotype that African-Americans have tried to debunk since the 1960s!" (Searle 48). Her own personal experience and awareness of how people visually perceive her, is a major impetus behind her investigation through performance of the ways people in society visually appraise, evaluate, and make stereotypic assumptions regarding "others" based on physical appearance."

Grace Jones: 1985 Performance in Paradise Garage

"Jones' bold and often confrontational dress and performance style played with and disrupted primitivist myths about black sexuality. In collaboration with artists like Jean-Paul Goude and Keith Haring, Jones transformed her body into medley characters, many of which satirized a primitivist reading of the black female body."