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  • Renee Cox (United States, 1960 – )

    Hottentot Venus

    Gelatin silver print
    71 1/8 in. x 54 3/8 in.
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    Hottentot Venus, 1994
    Renee Cox
    Gelatin silver print
    71 1/8 in. x 54 3/8 in.
    Museum Purchase 2000.001

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    Renee Cox displays herself here as the Hottentot Venus. This haunting image is a powerful statement about savage racism, colonialism and the historic denigration of the other. Through confident self representation, Cox seeks to take back the depiction of black women and rescue an ideal of beauty. The Hottentot Venus was Saarjite Baartman, a woman Southern Africa. In 1810, at the age of twenty, she wastaken by an English ship surgeon to London, then exhibited as a freak across Britain. Her much enlarged buttocks became an object of popular fascination. Illustrations of her naked body caused a sensation across Europe and she was exhibited, unclothed, in a cage amid voyeuristic throngs at Piccadilly. A court battle by abolitionists to free her from her exhibitors failed. Baartman was taken to France in 1814 for medical research. After her death a year later, French anatomists interested in her primitive sexuality dissected her genitals and cast them for exhibition at the Musée de l’Homme, where they were displayed until 1985. Sadly and horrifically, the Hottentot Venus was used as a stereotype of supposed racial inferiority and black female sexuality for over a century. Her story is a lesson in cruelty.

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