Venus is Suzan-Lori Parks’ 1996 Obie Award winning play. The play is a fictitious account of the true-life story of Saartjie Baartman. In 1810, Baartman, a member of the Khoi-San peoples of South Africa, was transported to London and Paris, where she was dubbed “The Hottentot Venus” and put on public display in near nude conditions. Her act generated a thriving business: the display of her genitalia and buttocks, determined to be abnormal by European standards, was not only the source of the attraction but also became the model for black female uniqueness during the Victorian era. The play follows Baartman’s experience in Europe from her departure from Africa to her untimely death in Paris.
CAST & CREW
Stage Manager | Prudence Kalipinde
Operations Manager | Kudakwashe Kanembirira
Reader | Brezhnev Guveya
A NOTE FROM DIRECTOR ELIZABETH ZAZA MUCHEMWA
It was a privilege to work on the staged reading of Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks. This feeling comes from the realisation that the person on whom the play is based is a prominent figure whose life story shaped important discourses on slavery, sexism, cultural appropriation and racism. Venus is Suzan-Lori Parks’ play based on the life of the so called ‘ Hottentot Venus’. In Europe Saartjie Baartman was, due in part to her relatively enormous posterior, exhibited to paying crowds as a side show freak under the appellation of ‘The Hottentot Venus’. In her death she was dismembered for scientific study, the results of which were used to confirm negative stereotypes Europeans had about Africans. Her skeleton and a plaster cast of her body were displayed in the Musee de L’homme in Paris until 2002 when her remains were returned to South Africa. In keeping with her unconventional style, Suzan-Lori Parks questions and appropriates history by bringing to the forefront the horrors of slavery, racism, commodification and sexism. The play draws parallels between the objectification of victims and the consumers of these products. In its irreverent manner, the play tackles the complexity of intersectionality as affecting the historically disadvantaged position that is occupied by the black female figure. It is the conceptions of racialised notions of beauty, the ideation of identity and belonging, and how they affect our individual pursuit of better livelihood that preoccupied our minds in the rehearsal room.