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The Hottentot Venus and the Western Man: reflections on the contruction of beauty in the West

posted on 2023-06-08, 09:24 authored by Partha Mitter
A few years back at the University of Sussex, we had a visitation from the copyrights authority, who were engaged in estimating the amount of photocopying done by readers using the university library. As I was waiting my turn to photocopy the attached picture (Firgure 2.1), the visiting inspector happened to glance at it. His face lit up and he gave me a knowing wink. This reactionw as not unexpected. Indeed, Sara Bartman, the so-called Hottentot Venus, was the most famous examply of African sexuality in the nineteenth century. When the nineteenth-century cartoonist wished to lampoon the Prince of Wales and his mistress in Brighton, he chose the sensationalist image of the Hottentot Venus, a cartoon which still features among the Brighton Pavilion exhibits. Displayed around Europe as an object of curiosity, after Bartman's death, her genitals were shown of in a glass case to illustrate 'the exaggerated animality of the Negress'. The tragic life of my eponymous heroine gives me a pretext to reflect on ideas of beauty within the broad conception of 'cultural encounters' evident throughout this volume. Since a lot is made of this age of multiculturalism, it may lead us to conclude that things are very different today. It might be argued, with some justification, that African women are not only not demonised, but on the contrary, women of African originare much sought after in the glamour business. Witness the meteoric rise of the supermodel, Naomi Campbell. However, as we shall see, things are not that simple.


Publication status

  • Published



Page range

35 - 50



Book title

Cultural Encounters: Representing 'Otherness'

Place of publication





Sussex Studies in Culture and Communication

Department affiliated with

  • Art History Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes


Brian V Street, Elizabeth Hallam

Legacy Posted Date


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