ZAm Reporter

05.04 – 20.08.23, San Francisco | Black Venus

Curated by Aindrea Emelife, the exhibition surveys the legacy of Black Women in visual culture. Fetishized in colonial-era caricatures, reclaimed in the present-day rich complexity of Black womanhood.

The San Francisco Museum of the African Diaspora hosts this exhibition by 18 artists (of numerous nationalities and with birth years spanning 1942 to 1997). What a celebration of Black beauty, an investigation into the many faces of Black femininity and the shaping of Black women in the public consciousness - then and now!

Zanele Muholi, “Miss Lesbian II, Amsterdam, from the series Miss (Black) Lesbian”, 2009 © Zanele Muholi, courtesy of Yancey Richardson, New York, and Stevenson, Capetown and Johannesburg

Juxtaposed against archival depictions of Black women dating back to 1793, the contemporary works on view collectively create a global, cross-generational investigation into Black women’s reclamation of agency amid the historical fetishization of the Black female body. The exhibition’s thematic foundation is the Hottentot Venus, a visual-culture archetype named for the assigned stage name of Saartje Baartman (born in 1789 in South Africa). Enslaved by Dutch colonizers and toured around Europe as part of a ‘freak show’ due to her non-Western body type, caricatured depictions of her spread around the globe and indelibly catalyzed the Western exoticization and othering of Black women.

In BLACK VENUS, archival depictions of Baartman and other historical Black women pair with the vibrant, narrative portraiture by some of today’s most influential Black image-makers whose work deals with layered narratives of Black femininity.

Sartjee, the Hottentot Venus, 1811. From The New York Public Library

Some participating artists – Wangechi Mutu, Zanele Muholi, Ayana V. Jackson – have been extensively featured in ZAM publications. Other participants include: Alberta Whittle, Amber Pinkerton, Carrie Mae Weems, Carla Williams, Coreen Simpson, Deana Lawson, Deborah Roberts, Frida Orupabo, Ming Smith, Kara Walker, Maud Sulter, Lorna Simpson, Renee Cox, Sadie Barnette, Shawanda Corbett, Tabita Rezaire, Taiye Idahor, Yetunde Olagbaju.

More information here.