Venus Hottentot

Everytime I see my friend, playwright Marsha Estell, I become more and more fascinated with her mind. We always have constructive and creative conversations about her craft and our art of writing in general, mostly because we both detect and respond to the poetry in things. Her ideas resonate with me and I feel she is a compatriot in metaphor and symbolism.

Yesterday we were discussing her new play and the research she’s going to begin. Our conversation excited us with the prospect that this upcoming play must be written due to a couple of symbolic guideposts along the way. Before she could even introduce her play idea, it seemed a magical coincidence that I happened to be speaking with someone not a day before about the very same historical incident about which she plans to write. Karma.

As the conversation traversed other territories, namely perspectives of victimization, the subject of another play surfaced. Marsha’s colleague, Lydia Diamond (of Steppenwolf) had written a play about about Saartjie Baartman: Venus Hottentot, whom, before this, I had not heard about. The play was called, Voyeurs de Venus, and it intercuts the story of Baartman, a 19th-century African woman taken from her home and displayed as a curiosity in Paris under the derogatory nickname “the Hottentot Venus,” with a contemporary academic and writer wrestling with the dilemma of presenting Baartman’s story without further exploiting her. (Baartman’s buttocks and genitalia were deemed unusually large by European standards, and in addition to being put on humiliating display during her short life, her remains were also sliced up and preserved as medical oddities by French scientist Georges Cuvier. Her body was finally returned to her native South Africa in 2002.)

The details of her life moved me so much to want to track down the latest book published about her by Rachel Holmes.

I’m ordering it and want to further delve into her biography.

Here’s a Wikipedia link to her as well.

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