Sarah Baartman (sculpture)
Artist: Willie Bester
Date of Action: March 9th, 2016
Location: University of Cape Town
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Confronting Bodies: Students at University of Cape Town
Description of Artwork: The sculpture was purchased by the University of Cape Town Works of Art Committee in 2001 for its then new Chancellor Oppenheimer Library, where it has stood since. Created by the renowned South African artist Willie Bester is a depiction of historical figure Sarah Baartman (also spelled Sara, Saartje, Saartjie, and Bartman, Bartmann (1770s–29 December 1815), a South African Khoikhoi woman who, famously, due to her large buttocks, was exhibited as a freak show attraction in 19th-century Europe under the name "Hottentot Venus". Bester created the work as a way to represent his own struggles with racism and racial inequity.
“I heard about the experience of Sarah Baartman and I found some parallels with her story,” he explains. “While listening to a poem written by Diana Ferrus, it already came up to me as a sculpture and then I decided to build [it].” The entire process, from searching for pieces in junkyards to putting the sculpture together, took four months. (from GroundUp article, June 5, 2017)
The Incident: On March 9th, 2016, students covered the piece as part of their procession to the Center for African Studies Gallery which was intended to commemorate the anniversary of the Rhodes statue being removed.
Results of Incident: Bester was surprised and upset by the students' decision to cover his piece. He did not intend for the piece to offend people. He believesthat there were many better ways of dealing with offense other than censorship. Bester was extremely angry with UCT's inability to deal with the situation.
The sculpture remained covered up since March 2016. In March 2018, senior UCT librarian William Daniels decided to uncover it (according to a GroundUp report; see NEWS24 article).
Academics inside and outside UCT, and artists including Bester, have praised the uncovering. But some members of the UCT community have publicly denounced Daniels.
David Goldblatt, the celebrated anti-apartheid photographer, chose to move his collection from UCT to Yale University after his artwork was damaged and destroyed in the 2016 Shackville Protest. (See: Art Censorship at University of Cape Town )
Image: Photo by David Goldblatt. Willie Bester’s sculpture of Sarah Baartman covered with cloth by students of the Rhodes 'Must Fall Movement'. Main Library at the University of Cape Town (05/14/2016).
Sarah Baartman sculptor speaks out against art censorship, “I was trying to understand my own suffering” says Willie Bester, whose work has been covered up at UCT. GroundUp, June 5, 2017
Quarrel over Sarah Baartman sculpture at UCT, NEWS24 2018-03-03 (update)
South Africa: Art destroyed and censored at University of Cape Town, Freemuse, 21 July 2017