PPAS Auditorium - 328 W 48th St, New York, NY
Nov 13 - 16, 2019
Venus is a biographical-vaudeville play about Saartjie Baartman, a member of a freak show label called the Hottentot Venus. Set around 1810, it concerns Baartman’s origins as a member of the Khoi-San people of South Africa and her move to Paris and London where she was exhibited for her extremely large buttocks. Her “act,” in which she was exposed to voyeuristic members of the European public, became an enduring and problematic source of caricature of women of African descent, especially during the Victorian era. The drama touches little on the historical context of Venus’ life, capturing instead the strange social conditions that made her life and exploitation possible. It tracks Venus from her departure from South Africa to her early death in Paris, exploring especially her romantic relationship to her sponsor, Baron Docteur. The play exposes the racial stereotypes and clichés that characterized the Victorian era and parodies the concept of the sideshow carnival that capitalizes on exoticism, questioning whether Baartman had agency over her life path.