by Pumla Dineo Gqola, 2008
Abstract. ‘Crafting epicentres of agency’: Sarah Bartmann and African
feminist literary imaginings. The story of Sarah Bartmann has been one of
the fascinations of academic writing on ‘race’, feminism and poststructuralism in the late twentieth and early twentieth-first century. An enslaved Khoi woman, she was transported to Europe where she was displayed for the amusement, and later scientific inquisitiveness of various public and private collectives in London and Paris. Her paradoxical hypervisibility has meant that although volumes have been written about her, very little is recoverable from these records about her subjectivity. In this paper I am less interested in tracing and engaging with some of the debates engendered by this paradox and difficulty more broadly. Rather, I want to read and analyse how African feminist literary projects have approached Bartmann’s absent presence. My paper then tasks itself with exploring the possibility of writing about Sarah Bartmann in ways unlike those traditions of knowledge-making that dubbed her ‘the Hottentot Venus’. It analyzes a variety of texts that position themselves in relation to her as a way of arriving at an African feminist creative and literary engagement with histories which fix representations of African women’s bodies, via Bartmann in colonialist epistemes.
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