A stage play about the late Saartjie Baartman

Saartjie Baartman

Lebo Mashile the writer, poet, producer and actress chats to us about the stage play titled Venus vs Modernity which is inspired by the late Saartjie Baartman. By Fundiswa Nkwanyana

Venus vs Modernity is inspired by the life of the late Saartjie Baartman. She was a woman of Khoi descent who was abducted from her home in the Eastern Cape in the early 1800s. She was taken to Cape Town where she was made a slave. She was then taken to Europe, and put on display as a freak. Saartjie endured terrible abuse and exploitation, and later died in France. Her remains were dissected; her vagina and brain were prickled and put on display at the French National Museum for over 150 years.

 SEE ALSO: Maya Angelou’s life story is heading to Broadway

We are telling this story because it helps people understand why black women’s bodies are so degraded. 10 years ago, I went through public battles about my weight and Saartjie’s story became a point of reference for me. It helped me understand why I was being attacked, and that I’m not alone because a lot of black women go through this. So, when telling this story, we are using modern references such as contemporary music, dance and poetry to show that the story of Saartjie Baartman is not just something that happened in the 1800s because it’s still happening to millions of black women across the world.

This play explores important themes.  We touch on colonialism, slavery, sex, fame, influence, religion and representation. Even though it’s a horrific story, we use our creativity to tell it in an informative and humorous way.  I’m honoured to be acting alongside the amazing opera singer Ann Masina who plays Venus and I play Saartjie. We inject a lot of love, power and grace into this important story.

SEE ALSO: 5 minutes with award-winning author Mubanga Kalimamukwento

If you love theatre and care about representation, then you have to watch this play. If you are a woman that has felt degraded because of your body or you are raising a girl, then this is a show for you. It’s also for people who are interested in topics around gender-based violence and femicide. We have an age restriction of no under 16s because we are dealing with adult themes and strong language is used. After every performance, we discuss some of the issues that emerge from the piece. It’s a thought-provoking play that every South African should watch.

Watch Venus vs Modernity at the Market Theatre until 28th September. It will then go to the Afrovibes Festival in Holland.