BLACK VENUS, curated by Aindrea Emelife is an exhibition that surveys the legacy of Black Women in visual culture - from fetishized, colonial-era caricatures to the present-day reclamation of the rich complexity of Black womanhood by 18 artists (of numerous nationalities and with birth years spanning 1942 to 1997). This exhibition is 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.
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 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.
A Note to Our Visitors: This exhibition reckons with difficult visual histories. It features some themes and images that are derogatory and many that are empowering. Sensitive visitors should be aware that several artists in the exhibition employ nudity and sexual imagery to explore their ideas.
Ayana V. Jackson
Carrie Mae Weems