At London’s Somerset House an exhibition reflects on the historical representation and shifting legacy of Black women in visual culture. It runs through September 24.
‘Black Venus’ wants to move away from the othering of Black women, as well as the sexualised stereotypes to display contemporary works by 18 Black women and non-binary artists.
“Black Venus is an exhibition that looks at the historic representations of Black women throughout visual art, throughout art history, but also then looks at contemporary artists that are reclaiming these narrow stereotypes put onto Black women with their own works,” curator Aindrea Emelife said.
If Black female bodies are reclaimed by artists, the exhibition includes old ways of thinking too.
19th century cartoonish engravings depict for example Saartjie Baartman with exaggerated physical features to amuse and titillate audiences.
Her remains were repatriated to South Africa on May 3, 2002. Her story inspired the curator.
“I thought about the Hottentot Venus, which is the story of a South African woman, Saartjie Baartman, who was brought to Europe and toured as an attraction to display her otherness and to show her hypersexuality.”
“That, for me, was one of the starting points when I think that black women were exoticized and fetishised in art and in visual culture.”
More contemporary works depict Black women as icons – like ‘Me as Marilyn’, which shows artist Ming Smith as the original blonde bombshell, Marilyn Monroe.
It’s a comment on society’s beauty standards and how often Black women have been excluded from the lists of female icons.
There are photographs which represent modern life, and ones which draw from Black history, inspired by African goddesses and traditional facial adornments.
The exhibition includes works by 18 Black women and non-binary artists.
More than 40 contemporary photographs are on display.
All have different ways of addressing the history of Black women in art.
‘Black Venus’ runs from 20 July to 24 September.