By: Daniela Gomes, Emily Aguilar Thomas and Lucia Palmer
This week discussion was constructed around Representation and the relation between Otherness and race, especially regarding Black lives. Through the work of Stuart Hall and his text The Spectacle of the “Other” along with the anthology Black Venus 2010 and the documentary “The Life and Times of Sara Baartman: The Hottentot Venus” we were able to engage with key terms such as representation, difference, otherness, discourse, spectacle, knowledge, power, fetishism and exoticism.
We began screening the documentary “The Life and Times of Sara Baartman” which offered an historical narrative of Baartman’s life and death since her early existence in the Khoi Khoi community in South Africa, until the final debate about her body parties that were still in Europe when the film was created. The film prepared us to engage with the readings in a historically situated way, by offering the social, cultural, political, and biological side of this history.
We then engaged with an introduction of the author’s short biography and a synopsis of the readings exploring, from the perspective of the work presented by Stuart Hall, the intersectionality between representation and the concept of otherness and relations of discourses which are produced by a structure of power and how race is a foundational piece of this structure. In addition, Black Venus 2010, edited by Deborah Willis, brought Sarah Baartman’s life as an example of this construction of Black bodies, especially Black women as spectacle.
We created a Poster Carousel exercise with five central questions that would allow us to dig deeply into the texts in our discussion.
The proposed questions were:
1. How has the maintenance of a system of “difference’” has been used over the time to perpetuate systems of power?
2. How do the representation of these bodies differ from each other? How might this difference of representation be influenced by the exoticism of black bodies? (Images of Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj)
3. (quote stuart hall) “Stereotyping, in other words, is part of the maintenance of social and symbolic order. It sets up a symbolic frontier between the ‘normal’ and the ‘deviant’, the ‘normal’ and the ‘pathological’, the ‘acceptable’ and the ‘unacceptable’, what ‘belongs’ and what ‘does not’ or is ‘Other’, between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’, ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. It facilitates the ‘binding’ or ‘bonding’ together of all of ‘Us’ who are ‘normal’ into one ‘imagined community’; and it sends into symbolic exile all of ‘Them’ - The Others - in some way different.” (Hall: 1997 p.258)
From this perspective, how is stereotyping responsible for the image and re-image of the black venus in the 21st century? How might we read Black Venus from Hall’s perspective?
4. Thinking about the binary of culture/nature, how do intersectional oppressions inform the way that bodies of color are treated as disposable?
5. Audre Lorde defines that for Black Feminists “Poetry is not a luxury” but a vital component of their existence. Considering this perspective of poetry as resilience tools, how would be possible for us to engage with the poems that are presented in Black Venus? What are the images that can be highlighted from those readings?
The prompts were given on posters which circulated among the groups and were responded to according to pertinent discussions among the members. (See the pictures below).
Dr. Smith concluded the activity by steering us toward the key concepts that were presented in Hall’s chapter and bringing an example of how to enter into representation and disturbing it through the exhibition of the image of the Karan Walker’s sculpture “Sugar Baby”. We discussed how this artwork was in line with the politics of representation that Hall discussed towards the end of his chapter. “Sugar Baby” works from within the stereotyping, using “condensation” to foreground the stereotypes of Black women’s bodies and contest them. This discussion gave us a foundation upon which to engage with modern representations of the Black female, such as the Nicki Minaj video Anaconda which was exhibited as a closure to our class. This final “button” continued to weave our Poster Carousel into our discussion of representation, which is still incomplete.