In December 1815, Saartjie Baartman died. She was best known by the name “Hottentot Venus,” a living oddity worthy of display for European audiences. In Suzan-Lori Parks’ play, the story of Venus and her suffering is exposed. In the Overture of the play, the characters of the show announce that The Venus Hottentot is dead--then, through 31 scenes that move chronologically but are numbered backward, they present a world in which African women are dehumanized and deconstructed. The Venus is taken from her South African home to London, then sold to a sideshow manager, then sold to a doctor. While The Venus’ story is marked by tragedy, Parks encourages audiences to find the love within the play, to understand the fascination of the spectators and the hope of Saartjie, her belief that she will one day see streets of gold and be truly loved.
Venus guide sections