top of page

Sarah Baartman: Exploitation and Injustice




Sarah Baartman's tragic story stands as a stark reminder of the exploitation and dehumanization that marginalized individuals have endured throughout history. Known as the "Hottentot Venus," Baartman was a Khoikhoi woman from South Africa whose life became a symbol of exploitation, racism, and the objectification of human beings.


Born in 1789 in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Sarah Baartman belonged to the Khoikhoi people, an indigenous group that had already experienced the devastating effects of colonization and displacement.


In the early 19th century, Baartman's life took a harrowing turn when she was taken from her homeland and exhibited as a "freak show" attraction in Europe.




Baartman's physical features, particularly her large buttocks and elongated labia, were sensationalized by those who exploited her. She was paraded in various European cities, objectified for her appearance, and made to perform in degrading ways that perpetuated harmful stereotypes about African women. Her exhibitions were often accompanied by demeaning and offensive commentary that reduced her humanity to a spectacle for the amusement of others.


Baartman's exploitation was driven by a combination of racism, colonialism, and pseudoscientific curiosity. European "scientists" and ethnographers used her body as an object of study, reinforcing the false notion of racial superiority.


Baartman's tragic fate illustrates how systemic racism and the quest for profit intersected to perpetuate her suffering.




In 1814, Baartman was taken to England, where her objectification continued. She was examined by medical professionals and subjected to humiliating public displays. Her life was marked by abuse, maltreatment, and a lack of agency over her own body. Baartman's experience highlights the ways in which women of color, particularly Black women, have historically been subjected to exploitation and commodification.


The exploitation of Sarah Baartman did not end with her death in 1815. After her passing, her body was dissected, and her remains were displayed in a museum in France for nearly a century.



It wasn't wasn't until 2002, after years of advocacy and negotiations, that her remains were finally repatriated to South Africa and laid to rest in her homeland in 2002.




The legacy of Sarah Baartman serves as a powerful reminder of the ongoing fight against racism, colonialism, and the objectification of marginalized individuals. Her story continues to inspire conversations about the importance of respecting human dignity and combating the dehumanizing effects of exploitation. As we reflect on her tragic life, we must remain committed to challenging systems of oppression and working towards a more just and equitable world for all.


bottom of page